Why can’t a renunciant stay in one place for more than three days?


1. Stage of the retired householder (vanaprasthashram)

1.1 Meaning

‘गृहस्‍थाश्रममपहाय गृहीतमुनिवृत्तिरसंन्‍यस्‍त: ।’ (L.S.), means the stage of the retired householder is one in which one retires to the forest sacrificing one’s home but without becoming a renunciant (sannyasi).

1.2 Importance

A. An individual learns to live in a larger family in a hermitage (ashram) instead of a smaller one.

B. Death is the eternal truth. Each one has to ultimately die. Death means departing with the subtle body leaving the physical body and belongings on the earth. The objective of this stage of the retired householder in which one surrenders everything and lives in a hermitage in a forest is to prepare for this so that one does not grieve at that final moment.

1.3 When should one accept this stage?

After bearing a son which is the very objective of the stage of the householder one may adopt this stage of life. Some people adopt the stage of the retired householder after their son bears a son. Generally it is supposed to be adopted between the age of 50-75 years. However if one has already developed intense detachment (vairagya) then the scriptures permit one to go directly from the stage of a celibate to that of a retired householder without spending 25 years in the stage of the householder. If one’s wife is unprepared to accompany one in the stage of the retired householder then the son should be asked to look after her.

1.4 Duties and spiritual practice

Spiritual practice in the stage of the retired householder is undertaken with the objectives of purifying the physical body and undertaking the study of the scriptures.

    नानशनात्‌ परं तप: ।

Meaning: (For the retired householder) no spiritual practice is greater than observing a fast.

‘In the stage of the retired householder one is supposed to sacrifice physical pleasures and contemplate on philosophical concepts. Hence such an individual should endure the fire, sun and rain, grow a beard and a moustache, have matted hair, not cut his nails, usually observe silence (maun), study the Aranyaks and Upanishads so as to acquire spiritual knowledge and even become the disciple of a Self-realised sage so as to be able to get all his doubts about Spirituality clarified.

During the Vedic period some sages would lead a life of penance away from human habitation. They were not interested in sacrificial fires useful for the householder and in worldly riches. It is these sages who have written the Aranyaks from Vedic literature. Only those living in the forest were eligible to study them, not those residing in towns or cities. These people who had great faith in God and performed austerities in the forest were learned individuals.

For most, the stage of the retired householder was akin to that of the celibate. The attitude of penance and spiritual practice of the Path of Knowledge of a celibate became consolidated in this stage and took one to the ultimate goal of one’s life.’ (1)

1.5 Livelihood

Sustaining oneself on fruits and tubers from fallow land.

1.6 The stage of the retired householder and the classes

Mostly Brahmans and Kshatriyas adopted this stage of the retired householder.

1.7 Decline in the stage of the retired householder

Due to changes according to the influence of time nowadays this stage of the retired householder has virtually reached extinction. It is noteworthy that an old age home (vruddhashram) is not equivalent to this stage.

2. Stage of the renunciant (sannyasashram)

2.1 Origin and meaning

The word sannyas (संन्‍यास) has been derived from the two words san (सं) [meaning all] and nyas (न्‍यास) [meaning to give up, sacrifice]; hence it means sacrifice of everything.

    काम्‍यानां कर्मणां न्‍यासं संन्‍यासं कवयो विदु: ।। – श्रीमद्‌भगवद्‌गीता १८.२

Meaning: The learned say that sacrifice of actions done with expectation itself is renunciation (sannyas). – Shrimadbhagvadgita 18.2

2.2 Yati – A synonym for a renunciant

‘यतते चेष्‍टते मोक्षार्थमिति’ means that a yati is defined as one who makes efforts to attain the Final Liberation (Moksha). During the Vedic period people who wore blood red clothing, begged and lived only on alms (bhiksha) as a means of sustenance, constantly travelled without a permanent abode and were completely detached were called yatis.’ (2)

2.3 History of the concept of a renunciant

‘The words retired householder (vanaprastha) and renunciation (sannyas) are not found in the Vedas but the word yati which appears to be a synonym of sannyasi (renunciant) appears in them. However satirically yati means a magician. The Vedic words yati and yatu (magic) have a common root, yat. Yatis in the Vedic context are magicians who perform yatu that is magic. Nevertheless sages whose apparel is air (vayu) are mentioned in the Rugveda (10.136.2) but They cannot be said to belong to the fourth stage (ashram) of life. From this it appears that the stages of the retired householder and the renunciant must have not been established during the period of the Sanhitas. They began later during the period of the Upanishads when followers of the Vedas lost their faith in sacrificial fires (yadnyayag) and ritualistic worship (karmakand) and developed faith in knowledge and detachment. It is from this revolution in thinking that the stage of the renunciant originated. The Upanishads include concepts of all the four stages but without explicitly using such terminology. The story of Yadnyavalkya and Maitreyi appears in the Bruhadaranyak. There Yadnyavalkya says, “O Maitreyi, I will now leave home and renounce the world (pravrajya) (4.5.2)”. Pravrajya is a substitute word for sannyas. It also appears in Buddhist literature. The Jabalopanishad extensively deals with the concept of renunciation (sannyas). Till the period of the Mundakopanishad the concept of the four stages had become deeply rooted with the renunciant gaining predominance. By the period of Panini the institution of renunciation (parivrajak) became established. To spread the code of conduct of a renunciant, aphorisms (sutras) for renunciants were also created. Later the scriptures too incorporated the stage of the renunciant along with the other three stages.’ (3)

2.4 Objectives and importance

In the stage of the retired householder as one lives in only one place, even though it is a forest there is a chance of developing attachment for that place. To avoid generation of such attachment a renunciant does not stay in one place for more than three days. A quote from the Yogavasishtha (7.67.29) given below explains the importance of avoiding being in constant contact.

    अबन्‍धुर्बन्‍धुतामेति नैकट्याभ्‍यासयोगत: ।
    यात्‍यनभ्‍यासतो दूरात्‍स्‍नेहो बन्‍धुषु तानवम्‌ ।। – योगवासिष्‍ठ ७.६७.२९

Meaning: Constant contact makes even a stranger seem like a relative and separation decreases the affection for even one’s own brother making him seem like a stranger.

‘In this stage man acquires a chance to become independent and thus he becomes spiritually oriented. So long as he is bound by a specific place, family, village, country, lineage, code of Righteousness (Dharma), profession and position his intellect and thoughts also remain limited. After adopting renunciation he has to transcend all such barriers and go beyond them.’ (4)

2.5 Sacrifice and renunciation

    काम्‍यानां कर्मणां न्‍यासं संन्‍यासं कवयो विदु: ।
    सर्वकर्मफलत्‍यागं प्राहुस्‍त्‍यागं विचक्षणा: ।। – महाभारत ६.४२.२

Meaning: (Lord Shrikrushna says) Learned men refer to sacrifice of actions done with expectation as renunciation and wise men refer to sacrifice of the results of all actions that is of the desire for results of action itself as tyag (sacrifice). – Mahabharat 6.42.2

2.6 When should one renounce the world?

A. One should renounce the world after completion of the three stages of life

     विनेषु च विहृत्‍यैवं तृतीयं भागमायुष: ।
     चतुर्थमायुषो भागं त्‍यक्‍त्‍वा सङ्‌गान्‍परिव्रजेत्‌ ।। – मनुस्‍मृति ६.३३

     Meaning: After spending the third phase of one’s life in the forest (as a retired householder) one should surrender everything in the fourth phase and renounce the world. – Manusmruti 6.33

B. ‘यदहरेव विरजेत्‌ तदहरेव प्रव्रजेत्‌’ means one should embrace renunciation the day one develops detachment irrespective of the stage in which one is currently.

2.7 Types of renunciation

A. Vividisha: This is renunciation undertaken with the desire for Self-realisation and is done with a ritual.

B. Atur: This is renunciation taken suddenly after the realisation that one is at the fag end of one’s life dawns upon oneself. This is done without any ritual.

C. Tridandi: ‘This is called so because these renunciants wield three (tri) staffs (danda) tied together in the right hand. These three staffs signify the control over the mind, speech and body. A verse (shloka) from the Manusmruti says –

    वाग्‍दण्‍डोऽथ मनोदण्‍ड: कायदण्‍डस्‍तथैव च ।
    यस्‍यैते निहिता बुद्धौ त्रिदण्‍डीति स उच्‍यते ।। – मनुस्‍मृति १२.१०

    Meaning: The one who has kept the three restraints over speech, mind and body under the control of the intellect is said to be the one wielding the three staffs (tridandi). – Manusmruti 12.10

    This is considered as an inferior type of renunciation. It is believed that such a renunciant does not have to give up tying of a tuft of his hair in a ponytail (shikha), his sacred thread and loin cloth and can also return to the stage of a householder whenever he so desires. The Mahabharat narrates a story in which before abducting Subhadra, Arjun had been living in Dvarka for four months as such a renunciant’ (5)

    The one returning to the stage of a householder from the stage of a renunciant has to perform acts of penitence (kruchchra) for six months and has to bathe with clothes on to overcome impure touch (Gautam Dharmasutra 14.28). He also has to perform the acts of penitence if he has become unrighteous.

    One cannot return to the stage of the householder once the stage of the renunciant is adopted except in the case of the tridandi renunciation (sannyas).

2.8 Taking permission to become a renunciant

A celibate has to take his mother’s permission to become a renunciant as after the death of his father he is her caretaker. Even the great saint Shri Shankaracharya became an ascetic after seeking permission from His mother. If a householder wishes to become a renunciant then he has to obtain permission from his wife as otherwise her marital life will be disrupted, that is in other words she too will become a renunciant.

2.9 The ritual of acceptance of renunciation (sannyasgrahan)

‘The sun’s sojourn in the northern hemisphere from the equator to the Tropic of Capricorn is ideal for this ritual. The sun’s southward progress too is favourable for one who is on the verge of death (atur). Those desirous of taking renunciation should study the code of conduct of a renunciant by living with the Guru for some days. Then purifying the body by chanting the Gayatri mantra, chanting the Name of Lord Rudra, performing the Kushmand fire sacrifice (hom), etc. on the fourth, ninth or fourteenth day in the bright fortnight (rikta tithi) one should give offerings after remembering the time and place to acquire authority. Eight rituals of shraddhas (rite for departed souls) should be performed. Before accepting the stage of the renunciant to avoid the problem of who will perform the shraddha after one’s death as all ties including those with one’s son and relatives are severed by becoming a renunciant, one should perform a shraddha for oneself. The following day leaving behind only six hairs one should shave off the scalp hair. After a bath one’s remaining wealth, etc. should be given to Brahmans and one’s own sons. The loin cloth (langoti), the saffron robes of a renunciant (chati), etc. should be dyed with the extract of red orchid. A bamboo staff should be procured from a Brahman. A quilt and wooden footwear (paduka) should also be arranged for. Then the resolve for the ritual of accepting renunciation should be uttered. Ritualistic worship of Lord Ganapati and the Matrukas, the rite of Punyahavachan and the ritual of Nandishraddha should be performed.

When leaving home the sons and others should be blessed thus –

    सर्वे भवन्‍तु वेदाढ्या: सर्वे भवन्‍तु सोमपा: ।
    सर्वे पुत्रमुखं दृष्‍ट्‌वा सर्वे भवन्‍तु भिक्षुका: ।।

Meaning: May all become well versed in the Vedas. May all be worthy of drinking som (divine wine) in sacrificial fires. May all become renunciants after bearing sons.

At the end of the ritual one should bid farwell to one’s sons and relatives telling them “न मे कश्चित्‌ नाहं कस्‍यचित्‌” meaning I belong to no one and no one belongs to me. Then one should go to a water reservoir and offer three palmfuls of water into it.

Chanting the verse given below once again one should release a palmful of water into the water reservoir.

    पुत्रैषणा वित्तैषणा लोकैषणा सर्वैषणा मया परित्‍यक्‍ता ।
    अभयं सर्व भूतेभ्‍यो मत्त: स्‍वाहा ।।

Meaning: I have given up all desires for sons, wealth, success, fame and all other things. Now all the living beings need not harbour any fear from me.

Facing the east one should stand in water reaching the level of the umbilicus and recite the aphorism (sukta) “Taratsamandi… (तरत्‍समन्‍दी०)”. Then making a resolve that “from now on I who have been released from the attachment for my sons and for receiving recognition from others will survive only on alms” once again one should release a palmful of water into the water reservoir. Plucking out the tuft of hair (shikha), along with the sacred thread one should immerse them in the water after which a prayer unto Lord Vishnu should be made. After undressing completely one should take five steps facing the north. Thereafter one should wear the loin cloth (kaupin) and clothes and holding a staff, a water pot and a seat in the hand should surrender unto the Guru. Holding the Guru’s lotus feet one should plead before Him to impart knowledge of Brahman. The Guru fills a conch with water and consecrating it with Om sprinkles (abhishek) the disciple with it. He first recites the Shantipath and places His hand on the disciple’s head and then recites the Purushsukta. Placing His hand on the disciple’s heart the Guru whispers a great quote like “You are Brahman (तत्त्‍वमसि)”, etc. in his right ear and explains its meaning to him. Thereafter He names the disciple according to the sect. Some title such as tirtha, ashram, etc. may be suffixed to his name.

After that on some auspicious day a householder should invite the renunciant and offering a seat opposite himself should bathe his feet with earth and water. The renunciant should then purify his loins and wear a cord (kargota) around the loins and a loin cloth (kaupin). He should then drape his waist with a cloth. Thereafter the renunciant (yati) should pay obeisance to the senior renunciants and householders should offer him obeisance after which the yati should bless the former with the blessing “Narayan”.’ (6)

2.10 A type of renunciants – Dasnami

‘This is a sect of the Shaiva Gosavis. They generally remain naked and hence are also called Naga sadhus (ascetics). Every category of the Dasnami renunciants is subdivided into four classes viz. Kutichak, Bahudak, Hansa and Paramhansa depending upon their spiritual level.(7)

A. Kutichak: He is the one who resides in a hut built by his son and wields the three staffs (tridand), a water pot (kamandalu), a tuft of hair (shikha) and a sacred thread (janave). He survives on alms from his sons and relatives.

B. Bahudak: He dons saffron robes, wields three staffs and a water pot. He is supposed to beg for alms only in seven households. He should refrain from eating meat, salt and stale food.

C. Hansa: He spends one night in the village and five nights in the city. He begs for alms for eleven months and starves for one month of the year.

D. Paramhansa: He lives beneath a tree, in a deserted house or a crematorium. He either wears only one garment or remains nude. He is not bound by the restrictions of Righteousness (Dharma) and action (karma). He can beg for alms from anyone. He is free of duality, views everything with equanimity and is the all pervading soul. His external appearance gives the impression that he is insane.

    These four types are progressively of a superior degree. A renunciant is fearless and offers protection.’ (8) ‘The organisation of the Dasnami Naga renunciants is called akhada. All the Dasnami renunciants are incorporated in the seven akhadas of nirvani, niranjani, juna, atal, avahan, agni and anand. The style of tying the matted hair and the headgear (pagadi) of followers of different akhadas is different. The chief of an akhada is called a mahant. Each akhada is further subdivided into fifty-two parts each of which is called a madhi. There is another division of the akhada known as dava. Thus in all there are eight davas in which are included fifty-two madhis. They are called ramadatti, ruddhinathi, charmadhi, dasmadhi, etc. The davas with names of puri are four in number and include the ascetics bharati, sarasvati, tirtha, ashram, vana and aranya. They are named Vaikunthi, Sahajavat, Dariyan and Bharati.’(9)

E. Types according to the hermitage (akhada) and special feature: Based on the Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh they are as given in the table below

Name Number Main
Other centres Benevolent
1. Nirvani 500 Prayag Kanakhal, Omkar,
Kashi, Tryambak,
Ujjain, Udaipur,
Akola, Jvalamukhi
2. Niran-
500 Prayag Haridvar, Kashi,
Omkar, Ujjain
3. Juna 300 Kashi Prayag, Haridvar,
Tryambak, Ujjain
Dattatreya Organisation
of female
4. Atal 100 Kashi Vadodara,
Tryambak, Ujjain
5. Avahan 100 Kashi Dattatreya
with the
6. Agni Kashi Agni (the
deity of fire)
of all four
seats (piths)
reside here
7. Anand Very
Surya (the
Sun deity)

‘In North India there is a traditional belief as to why the Naga renunciants adopted the fighting attitude instead of undertaking chanting and penance. It goes thus – in the second half of the 16th century A.D. Madhusudan Sarasvati of Varanasi first formed a regiment of warrior Nagas. During those days Muslim mendicants wielded weapons and would time and again slay Hindu renunciants. To overcome this calamity Madhusudan Sarasvati taught the Nagas to take up arms and along with the Brahmans (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors) and Vaishyas (businessmen) also permitted Shudras (labourers) into the fold of the akhada.

Though initially the Naga renunciants wielded weapons in self-defence to protect themselves from Muslims later they did not hesitate to do the same against Hindus in connivance with soldiers from the Muslim Nawabs’ armies. In the battle between renunciants (sannyasis) and mendicants (bairagis) which occurred in Haridvar in 1760 A.D. approximately eighteen thousand Nagas were killed. An account of the Nagas participation in the royal battles of the Marathas, Rajputs and Sikhs on several occasions is also available.

The Naga ascetics believe in rigorous physical discipline. They observe various modes of physical penance such as standing with arms raised, standing on one foot, sleeping on a bed of nails, the spiritual practice of five fires (panchagnisadhan), etc. because they consider that this facilitates the attainment of the Final Liberation (Moksha). Since Shudras were also allowed into the hermitage (akhada) they must have found austerities inflicting physical hardships easier in comparison to the study of scriptures. But due to lack of study of the scriptures later they began to find it difficult to resist the Christian missionaries. Since they did not know Indian philosophies they could not defeat the Christian missionaries in debates. It was then to improve the situation that leaders of the Dasnami Nagas requested the learned Paramhansas to teach them Spirituality and the other sciences. The Paramhansas then began teaching them. Each Paramhansa teacher was accorded the title of mandaleshvar. A separate mandaleshvar was appointed for each akhada. In this process some Naga ascetics acquired spiritual knowledge and became mandaleshvars themselves. A mandaleshvar whose disciple also became a mandaleshvar during His lifetime was accorded the title of maha (the great) mandaleshvar.

Ascetics living in the akhada spend the day performing ritualistic worship of benevolent deities, chanting The Lord’s Name, studying the scriptures and in physical exercise. Formerly these ascetics indulged in a tremendous intake of intoxicating substances such as liquor, opium, cannabis (ganja or bhang), etc. but nowadays this is done within limits.’(10)

2.11 The mental attitude of a renunciant

‘Manu says that a renunciant fosters the spiritual emotion of friendship. If anyone abuses him or tries to fight with him then he remains silent. He neither disrespects nor harbours enemity towards anyone. No creature fears him. Even if anyone loses his temper he remains soft-spoken. He is disinterested in worldly affairs. However he feels concerned about the sorrowful state that those who do not practise Spirituality will be in after their death.

2.12 The code of conduct and spiritual practice of a renunciant

A renunciant should wake up early in the morning and recite the Brahmanaspati mantra. He should purify his body and staff and clean his teeth admist chanting of Om. After a bath he should chant the seven vyahratis namely bhuhu, bhuvaha, etc. and breathe through the right nostril and then chant them again while holding the breath and then exhale while chanting the same and making an offering of water to the deities, sages and ancestors during the daily ritualistic actions (tarpan) chanting 24 Names such as Lord Keshav, etc. After worship of the sun he should ritualistically worship Lord Vishnu thrice a day. He should subsist on alms. He should offer the food, which he has received as alms admist chanting of vyahrati mantras, to the sun, other deities and also to the inferior elements on the earth. He should offer the remaining food to Lord Vishnu and then partake of it. However he should not consume the food offered to deities like Chandi, the Vinayaks, etc. After a meal he should sip water from his palm (achaman) and perform pranayam sixteen times. When offering a renunciant alms the donor should first pour water on the former’s palm, then offer the alms and then pour water once again. Excluding the monsoon season the renunciant should spend only one night in a village and five nights in a city. In the four months of the monsoons he should stay in one place and in the remaining eight months of the year he should travel from place to place. A renunciant residing in places of pilgrimage should not travel. Begging for alms, chanting The Lord’s Name, ritualistic bathing, meditation, purification and ritualistic worship of God are the six essential practices for a renunciant. The vessel in which he begs for alms should be made of earth, bamboo, wood or pumpkin skin. Use of a bed and white clothing, talk about women, unsteady behaviour, a nap during the day and use of a vehicle are the six things which lead to the downfall of a renunciant.

    स्‍त्रिय: कामेन नश्‍यंति । ब्राह्मणो हीन सेवया ।
    राजानो ब्रह्मदंडेन । यतयो भोगसंग्रहात्‌ ।।

Meaning: A woman is destroyed by desire, a Brahman by accepting inferior service, a king by the curse of a Brahman and an ascetic (yati) by accumulating objects.

A renunciant should only concentrate and contemplate on the meaning of the Vedas and not indulge in any other study.

“यस्‍य ज्ञानमयं तप: ।” means the Path of Knowledge (Dnyanyoga) alone is the spiritual practice of a renunciant. Concentration, contemplation and austerities from the stage of the retired householder become spiritual practices which bestow the knowledge of Brahman to the renunciant. To create intense curiosity about the mysterious nature of the soul first one has to sacrifice worldly values and physical pleasures because attachment to sense organs and worldly values drowns man in the depths of nescience and poses an obstacle in the path of realising the Absolute Truth. Excluding the Mundakopanishad no other Upanishad is advocated as the ultimate doctrine for a renunciant. Masters (acharya) of the Upanishads possessed all human qualities and emotions. They also honoured worldly values.

Some ascetics pay obeisance only to their mother and the Guru, not even to God. If they visit a temple then they only touch their staffs to the threshold of the sanctum (gabhara).

2.13 The stage of renunciation and the class (varna)

Renunciation was not prevalent in any class other than the Brahman hence the description of a renunciant is always suggestive of a Brahman. Manu (6.97) has clearly stated “I recommend renunciation only for the Brahman.” Shankaracharya too has put forth the same idea (commentary on the Bruhadaranyak 3.5.1)

2.14 The last rites of a renunciant

After the death of a renunciant he should be bathed with a pitcher of water consecrated by mantras, admist chanting of the Rudrasukta, Vishnusukta and some other Vedic verses (ruchas) by his son or disciple who has shaven off his own head. The body should be smeared with sandalwood paste and a garland of flowers should adorn the neck. A pit of one and half arms length should be dug and sprinkled with a mixture of five substances namely milk, curd, clarified butter, urine and cowdung (panchagavya). The staff should be broken into three parts and placed on the renunciant’s right hand. Chanting the mantrabhurbhuvahasvaha (भूर्भुव:स्‍व:)” his skull should be broken with a conch. Salt should be sprinkled into the pit and the dead body of the renunciant should be placed in it in a sitting posture. The pit should then be covered with earth. Those attending the last rites should bathe in the river before returning home. A Kutichak should be cremated, a Bahudak buried, a Hansa immersed in water (jalasamadhi) and a Paramhansa buried wherever he dies is what a quote says. The last rites which are performed for an average person, such as pretakriya, are not done for a renunciant.

The one who performs the last rites should make offerings for only ten days everyday. He should worship a linga (divine phallus), offer payas (delicacy made from milk and rice) and light lamps. On the eleventh day he should perform a parvan shraddha (rite for the departed) and on the twelfth the rite of Narayanbali. On the thirteenth day thirteen renunciants or Brahmans are served a meal. It is recommended that the mahalay shraddha for the renunciant should be performed on the twelfth day (dvadashi) of the dark fortnight of the Hindu lunar month of Bhadrapad.(11)

3. The yugs and the stages of life

The table below gives the yug (era) and the corresponding stage (ashram) which is conducive to make spiritual progress.

Yug Satya Treta Dvapar Kali
Stage Celibate Householder Retired householder Renunciant

4. Comparison between different stages of life

4.1 The stage of the celibate and that of the householder

In the stage of the celibate the teaching is ‘सत्‍यं वद धर्मं चर’ (meaning: Speak the truth and behave righteously) while in that of the householder the dictum is ‘सत्‍यं च मे असत्‍यं च मे’ (meaning: I will speak the truth but if required also the untruth). In the latter stage one is expected to undertake worldly transactions. Consequently at times one is compelled to speak the untruth. To cite an example if a group of hooligans ask for the address of a saint to assassinate Him, then it is appropriate to tell them the wrong address. One should not speak the truth if it is so required for the welfare of the society.


Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publisher: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410, Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
First edition : Vol. 3 to 10,   Second edition: Vol. 1 and 2
1. Vol. 8, Pg. 582-583       2. Vol. 7, Pg. 572
3. Vol. 9, Pg. 554               4. Vol. 9 Pg. 554
5. Vol. 4, Pg. 221-222       6. Vol. 9 Pg. 554-555
7. Vol. 4, Pg. 316               8. Vol. 9 Pg. 554
9. Vol. 4, Pg. 317               10. Vol. 4 Pg. 319
11. Vol. 9, Pg. 554-557


How does the system of stages of life help in attaining four pursuits?


1. Origin and meaning of ashrams

The word ‘ashram (आश्रम)’ has been derived from the root ‘shram (श्रम्‌)’ which means to make efforts. The meaning of the derived word ‘ashram’ is ‘a state in which one makes efforts on one’s own’

2. Objectives and type

‘Righteousness (Dharma), wealth (artha), desire (kama) and the Final Liberation (Moksha) [धर्मार्थकाममोक्ष] are the four pursuits (purusharthas) of human life according to Bharatiya (Indian) culture. The system of stages of life (ashrams) explained in the Vedic religion is the principal means of attaining them.

     When explaining the duties to be performed in the various stages of life, the lifespan of man has been considered as 100 years and has been divided into four parts. Each part is called a stage (ashram). The four stages are the stage of a celibate (brahmacharya), that of a householder (gruhastha), that of a retired householder (vanaprastha) and that of a renunciant (sannyas). In the stage of celibacy one has to live in the Guru’s hermitage, study the scriptures and undertake vowed religious observances (vrat). In the stage of a householder through procreation, performing fire sacrifices and study of scriptures one repays the three debts towards society, ancestors and God respectively. Later as one ages one has to retire to the forest to complete the third stage and towards the end of life renouncing the world one should attain the Final Liberation (Moksha) through Self-realisation and thus accomplish the very purpose of life according to this philosophy. This is beneficial in gradually detaching oneself from desire and attachment for wealth. Restricting the natural and unrestricted tendency of man and guiding it onto the right path by defining limits is necessary to accomplish any of the four pursuits (purusharthas) of human life. Realising that this objective would be fulfilled only if human life was regulated by the four stages of life, sages laid down the system of stages of life.’ (1) The absolute means to accomplish the ultimate objective of human life, that is the Final Liberation or eternal benefaction is the stage of the renunciant and to accomplish the spiritual practice of that stage the first three stages are essential. Thus the four stages are inter-related. In short the system of stages of life teaches a materialist what spiritual practice he should undertake to gradually adopt the path of Spirituality (nivruttimarg) as his age advances.

3. Importance

The stages of life are absolutely essential to decrease attachment for the Great Illusion (Maya), to reduce awareness of the body (dehabuddhi), to consider others as part of one’s own family and to assuage the ego.

4. Stage of the celibate (brahmacharyashram)

4.1 Duties and spiritual practice

‘छात्राणां अध्‍ययनं तप: ।’ means study is the duty or spiritual practice (penance) of a student. This includes the study of observing the code of Righteousness (Dharma)

4.2 Livelihood

A celibate (a student studying the Vedas) and a yati (ascetic) are supposed to sustain themselves by begging for alms (bhiksha). This assists in reducing the ego.

4.3 The celibate and the desirous on

कामचारी तु कामेन य इन्‍द्रियसुखे रत: ।
ब्रह्मचारी सदैवैष य इन्‍द्रियजये रत: ।। – महाभारत १४.२६.१५

Meaning: The one who remains engrossed in happiness involving the five senses with the hope of getting sensuous pleasure is the desirous one. On the other hand the one who finds happiness in constant suppression of the senses is the celibate (brahmachari). – Mahabharat 14.26.15

4.4 The other stages

After undertaking spiritual practice by living with the Guru for twelve years rarely would one accept the path of Spirituality directly and become a renunciant (sannyasi). Most people would accept the path of materialism and become householders as their spiritual practice remained incomplete. They would compensate for this shortcoming by serving those following the path of Spirituality.

4.5 The stage of the celibate and the class (varna)

This stage of life was meant for those belonging to the Brahman and Kshatriya classes.

5. Stage of the householder (gruhasthashram)

5.1 Importance

The general tendency of people is to behave well with those who make them happy. An average person tends to call a person good when the latter behaves well with the former. Keeping exactly this secret of the attitude of an average person in mind, the code of conduct of the married householder has been framed. Moreover this secret itself lays the foundation of the code of conduct of the married householder’s life. The supreme worldly happiness is sexual orgasm. Hence in the Ayurveda intercourse is called the seat of Bliss (Anandsthan) and it is fulfilled in this stage of the householder.

Another benefit of this stage is procreation of a son through a wife.

  • A. ‘नापुत्रस्‍य लोकोऽस्‍ति’ means one without a son does not attain heaven.
  • B. ‘तस्‍मादुत्तरवयसे पुत्रान्‌ पितोपजीवति’ means a son shall look after his father in his old age.

Though in the Satyayug carrying forward the lineage was the motive behind intercourse, gradually with the successive yugs (eras) it began to decline and the objective that intercourse should concomittantly result in progeny came into being. Mentally one has to go from the Kaliyug to the Satyayug, that is one has to make spiritual progress. Hence one should remember that the purpose of life is to acquire control over sensuous pleasure and not for enjoying material objects. This is the very basis of our culture. This can be achieved in the stage of a householder in the following ways.

  • 1. Sexual desire for many before marriage gets diverted to only one after marriage.
  • 2. Since the rule ‘धर्मेण काम:’ meaning desires should be fulfilled through righteous conduct holds good in this stage, one has to gratify desires observing the restrictions of Righteousness. As a result an individual learns to refrain from sexual desire on the days when such acts are prohibited.

For one who is unable to love platonically, sexual intercourse is a means of uniting with the mind, by gradually developing physical attachment. Man acquires intense worldly happiness from the woman he marries so also, the woman. Thus the implied meaning of marriage is that the couple should love each other deeply. The quality of love is that, as one starts loving someone and along with it follows Righteousness (Dharma) and remains in the holy company of renunciants, gradually it acquires a dimension of love without expectations. Love slowly shifts from the body to the mind. This itself is called widening of the horizons of love.

The holy text Navanath Bhaktisar gives an apologue of King Bhartruharinath. To see how much Queen Pingala loved him, the king falsely informed her that he was dead. Upon hearing this, she became a sati (entered the pyre). When Bhartruharinath came to know of it he was about to jump into the pyre when the others stopped him. Then for twelve years he remained in the crematorium waiting for Queen Pingala. What is amusing is that inspite of having twelve hundred queens, his love for her had shifted from the body to the mind. Pingala too became a sati as her love had shifted onto the psychological plane. The twelve hundred queens were only physically attached and hence they did not become satis. Since the king was fed up of physical love he did not want their bodies but wanted Pingala. Later Gorakhnath released the king from the Great Illusion (Maya).

One gets sattvik (sattva predominant) Bliss of company only when attachment for the physical body is reduced. Hence for the one who is unable to renounce material objects all of a sudden, the method of reducing it stepwise, is marriage. As the physical attachment of the couple starts decreasing they are able to love their children proportionately more and more. That is, they wish for the well-being of their children. Benefaction refers to the fulfillment of human birth ! From this one will realise how wrong is the belief that by following Righteousness man becomes detached and more and more inactive day by day. Holy texts of great sages who have realised God will themselves illustrate how vastly expansive Their love for others is, that is how much They love the world.

The importance of the householder stage is explained in the holy texts, the Mahabharat and the Ramayan as given below.

  • 1. गृहस्‍थस्‍त्‍वेष धर्माणां सर्वेषां मूलमुच्‍यते ।। – महाभारत १२.२३४.६

        Meaning: The householder is the basic support of all types of Righteousness. – Mahabharat 12.234.

  • 2. यथा नदीनदा: सर्वे सागरे यान्‍ति संस्‍थितिम्‌ ।
        एवमाश्रमिण: सर्वे गृहस्‍थे यान्‍ति संस्‍थितिम् ।। – महाभारत १२.२९५.३९

        Meaning: Just as all small rivulets and big rivers finally culminate into the sea so also the householder is the support of individuals undergoing all other stages of life. – Mahabharat 12.295.3

  • 3. यथा मातरमाश्रित्‍य सर्वे जीवन्‍ति जन्‍तव: ।
        एवं गार्हस्‍थ्‍यमाश्रित्‍य वर्तन्‍त इतराश्रमा: ।। – महाभारत १२.२६९.६

        Meaning: Just as all living creatures survive with the support of the mother so also people in all other stages of life depend on the stage of the householder. – Mahabharat 12.269.6

  • 4. आश्रमांस्‍तुलया सर्वान्‍धृतानाहुर्मनीषिण: ।
        एकतश्च त्रयो राजन्‌ गृहस्‍थाश्रम एकत: ।। – महाभारत १२.१२.१२

        Meaning: Wise men say that the stage of the householder alone is equivalent to the other three stages put together. – Mahabharat 12.12.12

  • 5. चतुर्णामाश्रमाणां हि गार्हस्‍थ्‍यं श्रेष्‍ठमुत्तमम्‌ ।। – रामायण २.१०६.२२

        Meaning: Of all the four stages the householder’s stage is the best. – Ramayan 2.106.22

  • 6. अधर्मो धर्मतां याति स्‍वामी चेद्धार्मिको भवेत्‌ ।
        स्‍वामिनो गुणदोषाभ्‍यां भृत्‍या: स्‍युर्नात्र संशय: ।। – महाभारत ११.८.३३

        Meaning: Even the unrighteous servitor of a righteous master (householder) becomes righteous. Undoubtedly the qualities and defects in the master are reflected in his servant. – Mahabharat 11.8.33

5.2 Duties and spiritual practice

A. Taking responsibility for those following the path of Spirituality (nivruttimargi): Householders who follow the materialistic path of Righteousnes shoulder the responsibility of caring for the needs of those observing the path of Spirituality through renunciation.

B. Reception given to a guest

  • Origin and meaning: The Amarkosh defines an atithi (अतिथि) as ‘अतिथिर्ना गृहागते’ meaning a visitor to a home may be called a guest (atithi). ‘अत्ति सततं गच्‍छति इति’ means one who perpetually walks. ‘अध्‍वनीनोऽतिथिर्ज्ञेय:’ means a traveller is referred to as a guest. ‘नास्‍ति तिथिर्यस्‍य स:’ means one who visits unexpectedly at any time may be called a guest. A guest is called atithi because he does not stay with someone for the full day (tithi). Parashar (1.82) has defined a guest as the Brahman who stays with someone only for a night. The one who visits frequently from the beginning (atha) [अथ] to the end (iti) [इति] of the stage of the householder is a guest (atithi) [अतिथि]. Another definition of a guest is, the one in whose company one does not even realise how time (tithi) passes.
  • Importance:

    1. The Atharvaveda says that serving a guest is a sacrificial fire by itself. The custom of considering a guest as God and serving him is prevalent since the Vedic times. Parashar says

        प्रियो वा यदि वा व्‍देष्‍यो मूर्ख: पण्‍डित एव वा ।
        वैश्वदेवे तु सम्‍प्राप्‍त: सोऽतिथि: स्‍वर्गसङ्‌गक्रम: ।। – पराशरस्‍मृति १.४०

        Meaning: Irrespective of whether a guest is a friend or a foe, a foolish or a learned one he who arrives at the time of the ritual of Vaishvadev (a ritual of offering oblation to Agni, the deity of fire, performed daily before having a meal) bestows heavenly merits upon the host. – Parasharsmruti 1.40’ (2)

    2. If one does not offer a meal to a deserving guest despite having the capacity to do so then one incurs sin; this is not so if the guest is undeserving. However if he too is offered a meal then one acquires merits.

    3. Ascetics (yogis) and evolved beings (siddhas) roam around on the earth in the form of Brahmans. A host has to undertake penitence if he eats a meal without serving celibates (brahmachari) and ascetics (yati). The old Harit says, ‘When an ascetic dines at one’s home it is actually Lord Shrihari who is doing so. If he spends a night with a householder then the host is cleansed of all his sins.’ On the contrary the host who dines before serving a guest loses both his wealth and his merits.

  • Objectives: ‘Serving a guest is the chief code of Righteousness (Dharma) of a householder. In the olden days there were no amenities like roads and vehicles. People would embark on pilgrimages or journeys on foot. They were compelled to halt at someone’s house for lunch and to retire for the night. The scriptures on Righteousness have laid the responsibility of providing food and shelter to such travellers upon householders, thus making their journey pleasurable.’ (3)
  • Practice: One should wait for the arrival of a guest in the courtyard of the house after the ritual of Vaishvadev for a period of one-eighth of a muhurt, referred to as the period of godohan (the time required to milk a cow) [Markandey Puran 29.24, 25]. One should perform the following acts in honour of a guest – welcome him, offer water to wash his feet, offer him a seat, keep a lit lamp in front of him, serve him a meal, give him a place to stay and a mattress to sleep on, etc. and attend to him personally. Depending on one’s capacity if one offers food or even water or a mattress to a guest then the duty of serving a guest is fulfilled. Manu clearly states –

        तृणानि भूमिरुदकं वाक्‍चतुर्थी च सूनृता ।
        एतान्‍यपि सतां गेहे नोच्‍छिद्यन्‍ते कदाचन ।। – मनुस्‍मृति ३.१०१

        Meaning: If one cannot afford to serve a meal to a guest then he should at least be offered a grass seat. If even that is not available then he should be asked to sit on plain ground and if even that is not feasible then one should inquire about his well-being. At least this should be followed in the homes of righteous people. – Manusmruti 3.101

        If the host is not at home then his wife should honour the guest. The importance of serving a meal to a guest will be illustrated by the following example – ‘Once a traveller was resting under a tree. A pigeon couple was living on that tree. Seeing the traveller, the female pigeon said, “Look there is a guest below the tree. He should be honoured.” So they gathered grass and lit a fire in front of him. Seeing the fire the female pigeon exclaimed, “Now what shall we serve him? There is nothing in the nest. If we go in search of something he may go hungry. I will jump into the fire so that he can eat my flesh.” Hearing this her partner said, “How can I allow you to sacrifice yourself alone? I will jump into the fire to provide him food”. Then both of them began to quarrel about who would jump into the fire. Finally both of them jumped into the fire and the guest feasted on them.’ (4)

        ‘There are varied opinions about how a guest should be bid farewell (Apastamba Dharmasutra One should accompany the guest upto the place where his vehicle is parked or till the lake, temple, river or border of the village and then circumambulating him should say “I bid you farewell until we meet again” (Dharmasutra by Shankha)

        If the guests belong to different classes then they should be treated according to their class or potential (Vasishtha Dharmasutra 11.6). The Mahabharat (12.146.5) preaches that even an enemy who comes as a guest should be treated with honour.’ (5)

  • Regulations for guest

    1. यदर्थो हि नरो राजंस्‍तदर्थोऽस्‍यातिथि: स्‍मृत: ।। – महाभारत १५.२६.३७

        Meaning: (Dhrutarashtra tells Yudhishthir) O king, it is a rule that a guest should behave in accordance with the status of his host (according to the situation) irrespective of his own status.- Mahabharat 15.26.37

    2. A guest who eats a meal before his host dishonours him.

  • What should be done if no guest arrives?: One should serve a Brahman or if even that is not possible then a cow should be fed till it is content.

C. The five great fire sacrifices (panchamahayadnya): ‘These are the five great fire sacrifices or the five great vowed observances (vrats) to be performed everyday. The Taittiriya Aranyak (2.10) states that these five great fire sacrifices viz. devyadnya (sacrificial fire for the deities), brahmayadnya (sacrificial fire for Brahman), bhutyadnya (sacrificial fire for living beings), pitruyadnya (sacrificial fire for the ancestors) and manushyayadnya (sacrificial fire for humans) are performed extensively. A devyadnya is completed even if one stick of sacrificial firewood (samidha) is offered in the fire (havan). A brahmayadnya is said to be complete if a study of the Vedas is done, be it recitation of a rucha (Vedic verse) or chanting of a yajurmantra or a sama. A bhutyadnya is completed by offering a sacrifice of food to living beings. A pitruyadnya is said to be performed if a (shraddha) or even water is offered to ancestors. A manushyayadnya is said to be accomplished if food is offered to Brahmans. The Apastamba ( states that the adjective “maha” is attached to the above rituals to glorify them and the term “yadnya (sacrificial fire)” for an ornamental purpose. The motive behind these five rituals is fulfillment of one’s duties in relation to the Creator, the ancient sages, ancestors and millions of other living beings.

During the following period other motives also seem to be attached to this arrangement of five daily sacrificial fires. Manu and others (Manusmruti 3.68-71, Vishnu Dharmasutra 59.19, 20, etc.) say that everyday every householder destroys or hurts living beings in five instances that is when cooking, milling with a milling stone, sweeping with a broom, separating food grain in a sifting pan, using a mortar and pestle and in a vessel storing water. Great sages have described these five day-to-day fire sacrifices (daily rituals) to cleanse one of demerits arising out of such violence or harm.

  • Devyadnya: Manu (3.70) has called a fire sacrifice (hom) a devyadnya. The Smruti holy texts which were written later differentiate between a fire sacrifice or a devyadnya and ritualistic worship of God. In the Middle Ages the authors of holy texts began to consider the rite of Vaishvadev as devyadnya. However a fire sacrifice performed for deities is distinct from the rite of Vaishvadev is what some authors opine. During the Middle Ages and the recent times the concept of a fire sacrifice was forgotten and instead elaborate ritualistic worship of idols in homes began to be performed.
  • Brahmayadnya: Brahmayadnya is the study of the Vedas (svadhyay).
  • Bhutyadnya (taking away a sacrifice): One part of the food offered to Vaishvadev [ritual of offering food daily before a meal to Agni (deity of fire)] is sacrificed for the deities. In a bhutyadnya a sacrifice is placed on the ground instead of offering it in the fire.

    यत्र विश्वे देवा इज्‍यन्‍ते तव्‍दैश्वदेविकं कर्म । – पराशर माघवीय भाग १ पाद ३८९

    Meaning: Vaishvadevik actions (karma) are those in which Vishvedev (a group of deities to whom the fire sacrifice is offered) are ritualistically worshipped. – Parashar Maghaviya part 1 pad (chapter) 389

  • Pitruyadnya: This can be performed in three ways the first being making an offering of water to the deities, sages and ancestors during daily ritualistic actions (tarpan) [Manusmruti 3.70], the second by offering the food remaining after offering a bhutyadnya to ancestors (Manusmruti 3.91) and the third by inviting and serving a meal to at least one Brahman everyday and performing the rite of shraddha (for departed souls) [Manusmruti 3.82, 83]. In these shraddhas which are performed daily balls of boiled rice (pindas) are not offered
  • Nruyadnya or manushyayadnya: Manu (3.70) has said that honouring a guest is itself a nruyadnya or a manushyayadnya. Offering a meal to a Brahman is also a manushyayadnya.’ (6)

D. Offering: This constitutes an important aspect of Righteousness (Dharma). Offering constitutes an important aspect of any religious rite. ‘दानं तप: गृहस्‍थानां ।’ means that making offerings is the spiritual practice of those in the stage of the householder, that is of worldly people. The scriptures enlist construction of temples, growing gardens, digging lakes, offering water to people, etc. as religious acts performed with expectation.

5.3 Day-to-day conduct

Day-to-day ritualistic actions and conduct: ‘Day-to-day actions [ahnik (आह्निक)] and conduct refer to duties and rituals to be performed everyday and at regular intervals. This is a very important subject from the scriptures.

Ahaha (अह:) means a day, that is the period from one sunrise to the next (bright and dark part of the day). The bright part is divided into morning, noon and evening. Some divide it into five parts viz. morning, mid-morning, noon, afternoon and evening. Each part is equivalent to three muhurts. (One muhurt is equivalent to two ghatikas, that is 48 minutes). 30 muhurts comprise one day of 24 hours duration. The Smrutis however generally state a day to be comprised of eight parts.

    धर्मं पूर्वे धनं मध्‍ये जघन्‍ये काममाचरेत्‌ ।
    अहन्‍यनुचरेदेवमेष शास्‍त्रकृतो विधि: ।। – महाभारत ३.३३.४०

Meaning: One should undertake spiritual practice in the first part of the day, do business to earn money in the middle part of the day and enjoy object pleasure in the final part of the day. It is prescribed by the scriptures to always behave ritualistically in this manner. – Mahabharat 3.33.40

Some of the main day-to-day chores are chronologically as follows – waking up, meditating upon The Lord, ablutions, washing hands and feet, gargling, brushing of teeth, bathing, performing the ritual of sandhya, making an offering of water to the deities, sages and ancestors during daily ritualistic actions (tarpan), changing clothes, performing the five great sacrificial fires (panchmahayadnya), worship of the deity of fire, dining (at noon), earning a living, study and teaching of the scriptures, the ritual of sandhya in the evening, making offerings, sleeping and performing the fire sacrifices which have to be performed at a specific time.

From the worldly point of view four nadis (one nadi or ghatika is equivalent to 24 minutes) before sunrise and four which are functional after sunset constitute one day. If one bathes one ghatika before sunrise then it is considered to be a part of the day beginning after sunrise (Ahniktattva pad 327).

The period of one prahar, preceding sunrise, consists of two muhurts. The first muhurt is called the Brahmamuhurt. At this time the intellect and energy of man to write holy texts is at its optimum; hence that muhurt is called the Brahmamuhurt (an excerpt from a commentary on the Manusmruti 4.92 by Kulluk).’(7)

Detailed information on daily chores as well as rules and prohibitions is given in ‘Science of Spirituality: Vol. 2 – Practice of Spirituality and the Seeker’

5.4 Earning a livelihood

‘धर्मेण अर्थ:’ means earning wealth righteously.

5.5 Importance of a housewife

A. भार्याहीनं गृहस्‍थस्‍य शून्‍यमेव गृहं भवेत्‌ ।। – महाभारत १२.१४४.५

    Meaning: The house of a householder appears empty without a wife. – Mahabharat 12.144.5

B. न गृहं गृहमित्‍याहुर्गृहिणी गृहमुच्‍यते ।
    गृहं तु गृहिणीहीनमरण्‍यसदृशं मतम्‌ ।। – महाभारत १२.१४४.६

    Meaning: A house without a housewife is not a real home, in fact it is equivalent to a forest. It is the wife who makes the house a home. – Mahabharat 12.144.6

C. वृक्षमूलेऽपि दयिता यस्‍य तिष्‍ठति तद्‌गृहम्‌ ।
     प्रासादोऽपि तया हीन: कान्‍तार इति निश्चितम्‌ ।। – महाभारत १२.१४४.१२

Meaning: Even the shelter of a tree becomes home to a man if his wife is with him and without her even a palace is doubtlessly akin to a forest. – Mahabharat 12.144.12

D. A wife is considered as the other half of a man (ardhangi). No religious rite is performed without a couple. If not performed thus then ritualistically it is incorrect. It becomes lop-sided. That is why the Great Illusion (Prakruti) and the Absolute Being (Purush) that is woman and man should be harmoniously blended together.

5.6 The stage of the householder and the classes

This stage of life was mainly meant for the Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaishya classes. Excluding some parts it was also meant for the Shudras.


Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publisher: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410, Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
First edition : Vol. 3 to 10,   Second edition: Vol. 1 and 2
1. Vol. 9, Pg. 606       2. Vol. 1, Pg. 113
3. Vol. 1, Pg. 114

4. Jivitvidya Athva Satyam Shivam Sundaram. Second edition 1979, page 183. Author: Late Hari Ganesh Godbole. Publisher: Govind Yashvant Rane, G. Y. Rane Publications, 2040 Sadashiv Peth, Tilak Road, Pune 30.

Dharmashastracha Itihas (first and second halves). Second edition: 1980, Publisher: Secretary, Maharashtra State Literary and Cultural Society, Secretariat, Mumbai 400 0034.
5. Pg. 279-280           6. Pg. 266-278
7. Pg. 252-253


To whom should the offering be made?


1. Duties of Kshatriya class

Protecting the society from evildoers and governing the state righteously are the main duties of the Kshatriya. Information on the Kshatriya is given in ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 1 D – Protecting Seekers and Destroying Evildoers and Code of Righteousness of Rulers (Kshatradharma Sadhana)’ and ‘Vol. 1 E – Spiritual Practice of Protecting Seekers and Destroying Evildoers (Kshatradharma Rajdharma)’.

2. Duties of Vaishya class

The Smrutis have not prescribed separate rules for the Vaishya and the Shudra with respect to actions necessary for them. The Vaishyas and Shudras had to change their duties towards the Brahmans depending on the circumstances.

  • A. Serving the society by rearing cattle, agriculture and trade.
  • B. Assisting the royal treasury so as to fortify the kingdom.

3. Spiritual practice of Vaishya class

3.1 Offering (dan)

A. Origin and meaning: The word dan (दान) meaning donation or offering has been derived from the verb da (दा) meaning to give.

  • 1. According to the Nyayakosh: Giving an offering is a kind of sacrifice. Here man surrenders the ownership of a particular object or money and the recipient becomes the owner.
  • 2. According to the Shabdakalpadrum: An offering is an object or money gifted with faith and respect, to a deserving person.
  • 3. According to the Shandilyopanishad: An offering is gifting an object or money procured by righteous means to a deserving one, with faith and respect.

B. Importance of wealth

  • 1. धननाशेऽधिकं दु:खं मन्‍ये सर्वमहत्तरम्‌ ।
         ज्ञातयो ह्यवमन्‍यन्‍ते मित्राणि च धनाच्‍च्‍युतम्‌ ।। महाभारत १२.१७७.३४

Meaning: (The renunciant Manki says) I feel that unhappiness caused by loss of wealth is very intense because even the kindred and friends insult its loser. – Mahabharat 12.177.34

  • 2. अबलस्‍य कुत: कोशो ह्यकोशस्‍य कुतो बलम्‌ ।
         अबलस्‍य कुतो राज्‍यमराज्ञ: श्रीर्भवेत्‍कुत: ।। महाभारत १२.१३३.४
  • Meaning: From where will the weak acquire wealth? And how will the unwealthy one acquire power? So also how will the kingdom of a powerless one survive? And if the kingdom is lost then how will its wealth remain? – Mahabharat 12.133.4

    The significance of undertaking the spiritual practice of the Vaishya and the Kshatriya will become clearer from this verse (shloka).

  • 3. धनात्‍कुलं प्रभवति धनाद्धर्म: प्रवर्धते ।
         नाधनस्‍यास्‍त्‍ययं लोको न पर: पुरुषोत्तम ।। महाभारत १२.८.२२
  • Meaning: (Arjun tells Yudhishthir) O great one, a family becomes powerful by means of wealth. Wealth facilitates a rise in Righteousness (Dharma). The poor are neither happy in this world nor in the other regions. – Mahabharat 12.8.22

  • 4. न ह्यृतेऽर्थेन वर्तेते धर्मकामाविति श्रुति: ।। – महाभारत १२.१६७.१२Meaning: There is a verse in the Vedas (Shrutis) that without wealth the other two pursuits of life viz. Righteousness (Dharma) and desire (kama) cannot exist. – Mahabharat 12.167.12
  • C. Attitude about accumulation of wealth: One should consider the wealth obtained as a blessing bestowed by The Lord.

    D. Losses due to accumulation of wealth

    • 1. दर्पो नाम श्रिय: पुत्रो जज्ञेऽधर्मादिति श्रुति: ।। – महाभारत १२.९०.२६Meaning: It is said that pride (darpa) is a son born to deity Lakshmi from unrighteousness. – Mahabharat 12.90.26
    • 2. न हि संचयवान्‍कश्चिद्‌दृश्‍यते निरुपद्रव: ।। – महाभारत ३.२.४८Meaning: One does not come across a wealthy man who is without any troubles. – Mahabharat 3.2.48
    • 3. अगोप्‍तारश्च राजानो बलिषड्‌भागतस्‍करा: ।
          समर्थाश्चाप्‍यदातारस्‍ते वै निरयगामिन: ।। – महाभारत १३.२३.८०

    Meaning: A king who procures one sixth of the income of his subjects as tax but does not protect them, and those who do not make an offering despite the capacity certainly go to hell. – Mahabharat 13.23.80E. Misuse of wealth

    • न्‍यायागतस्‍य द्रव्‍यस्‍य बोद्धव्‍यौ व्‍दावतिक्रमौ ।
      अपात्रे प्रतिपत्तिश्च पात्रे चाप्रतिपादनम्‌ ।। – महाभारत ५.३३.५९

    Meaning: Wealth earned righteously may be misused in two ways by offering to the undeserving and not offering to the deserving. – Mahabharat 5.33.59F. Importance of offering

    • 1. तप: परं कृतयुगे त्रेतायां ज्ञानमुच्‍यते ।
          व्‍दापारे यज्ञमेवाहुर्दानमेकं कलौ युगे ।।
                 – मनुस्‍मृति १.८६, महाभारत १२.२३२.२८, पराशरस्‍मृति १.२३

    Meaning: Penance in the Krutyug, knowledge in the Tretayug, fire sacrifices (yadnya) in the Dvaparyug and offering in the Kaliyug are supreme. – Manusmruti 1.86, Mahabharat 12.232.28, Parasharsmruti 1.23

  • 2. म्रियते याचमानो वै न जातु म्रियते ददत्‌ ।
        ददत्‍संजीवयत्‍येनमात्‍मानं च युधिष्‍ठिर ।।  महाभारत १३.६०.५
  • Meaning: (Bhishma says) O Yudhishthir, the one who begs dies but the one who gives an offering never does. The one making an offering gives the gift of life to the beggar as well as to himself. – Mahabharat 13.60.5

  • 3. ‘In the Eknathi Bhagvat it is mentioned that, “The Lord first uplifts that wealthy one who takes care of the spiritual and worldly needs of His weak devotee”.Commentary on the implied meaning: Merits do not save and sins do not destroy but it is the spiritual emotion which protects. Hence when fulfilling the worldly needs of that weak devotee the spiritual emotion should be, “Who am I to take care of the needs of the devotee of The Lord when it is The Lord Himself who takes care of my needs beyond my expectations? This being so, will The Lord Himself not take care of the needs of His devotee? But the interesting part is that The Lord Himself is sustaining him by using me as an instrument. Moreover, like the proverbial “killing of two birds with one stone”, along with the devotee’s upliftment He is also giving me an opportunity for self upliftment”.’ – Saint

    Offering is an excellent means of spending money because it generates merits. If one rejects those merits then one’s spiritual level rises.

  • G. The six components of offering: They are 1. the donor, 2. the recipient, 3. faith, 4. the offering, 5. the place and 6. the time.

    • 1. The donor: He should earn money righteously and offer it willingly as his duty. He should be of a sattvik (sattva predominant) temperament, should not expect anything from the offering and should do it in secrecy to avoid development of ego regarding making the offering.
    • 2. The recipient: ‘A Brahman (priest) of pure conduct and well versed in the Vedas should be invited for a meal when performing religious rites and at the opportune moment and place when one comes across a deserving recipient should the offering be made. The merit derived from the offering depends on how deserving the recipient is and also his caste (Yadnyavalkyasmruti 1.6; Gautamsmruti 5.18; Manusmruti 7.85). The Brahman (priest) who practises the scriptures and performs austerities is worthy of receiving an offering. If a Brahman lacking in spiritual knowledge and penance is given an offering then it results in the spiritual deterioration of both the donor and the recipient.’ (1)The offering should always be to the Absolute Truth not to a beggar, hospital, school, etc. from the Great Illusion. It should always be to the ‘deserving’, that is ‘to the one worthy of it’. In this world, there is none more worthy than saints; hence any offering should be made only unto Them. Saints and Gurus are the manifest (physical) forms of the unmanifest God. Hence, any offering made unto saints and the Guru is as good as an offering to God Himself. Thus offering back to God what belongs to Him does not create a ‘give and take account’ rather completes it. As such, the offering made unto saints reduces the accumulated account (sanchit) and increases the ability to withstand the effects of destiny. Moreover, neither is any ‘give and take account’ thereby created, nor are any merits acquired. Hence, whatever has to be offered should be given only to saints or for the mission of the Absolute Truth. This is possible only for a seeker in the stage of mental worship (upasanakand) chanting The Lord’s Name. The one practising the inferior Path of Action (Karmayoga) gives alms to beggars, donations to schools and hospitals under the influence of emotions. Only merits are acquired from such actions. Seekers desirous of Liberation (mumukshu) want neither merits nor sins, since only heaven and not the Final Liberation (Moksha) is attainable with merits.
    • 3. Faith: An offering should be made only if one has faith in the scriptures and respect for the recipient.
    • 4. The offering (the gifted objects or money)    A. Classification of the money offered into two categories – divine and demoniacal wealth: The classification of the wealth offered depends upon how the wealth is acquired.
      • Divine wealth: Literally this means white money or wealth accumulated through righteous means.One who is wealthy or has the capacity to amass wealth should earn money through righteous means and offer it for a spiritual cause. Saint Tukaram too, has conveyed the same message in one of His hymns (abhangs),

        The one who earns wealth through righteous pursuit of business,
        And spends for a spiritual cause with detachment,
        In the next birth will be born spiritually evolved,
        And will traverse towards Liberation.

        Offering money thus endows both the donor as well as the recipient with sattvik happiness. A verse (shloka) from the Mahabharat (5.34.31) in this context says –

        धर्ममूलं श्रियं प्राप्‍य न जहाति न हीयते ।

        Meaning: Wealth earned righteously is neither lost nor diminishes.

      • Mixed wealth: This means lending money earned righteously as well as unrighteously. Here both the donor and the recipient acquire happiness as well as unhappiness. The reason behind it is that the donor gets the satisfaction of lending but is anxious about its recovery. The recipient is happy to receive the money but becomes unhappy as he has to return it later. Such an offering is called mixed wealth.
      • Demoniacal wealth: In other words it is black money earned through unrighteous means, e.g. gambling, thefts, etc. Such wealth causes unhappiness to the donor as well as the recipient.The following example will illustrate the concept further.

        Two wealthy men decided to offer a sum of a thousand rupees each. One of them offered his white money earned righteously to a poor man. That poor man had caught two birds to satisfy his hunger. After getting this money he at once set those birds free and they flew away happily. The second rich man offered the black money which he had earned by cheating others to another poor man who squandered it away in gambling.

        Inference: Offering of money earned righteously bestowed the donor with merits, satisfied the hunger of a poor man and saved the lives of two innocent birds. Contrary to this by offering money earned by unfair means neither the donor nor the recipient were benefitted. Besides gambling can become an addiction and the one who had given the man money to gamble for the first time acquires demerits due to it.

        From the above discussion one can conclude,

        दैवी संपव्‍दिमोक्षाय निबन्‍धायासुरी मता ।। – महाभारत ६.४०.५

        Meaning: Divine wealth leads to the Final Liberation (Moksha) and demoniacal wealth to bondage. – Mahabharat 6.40.5

        Behaviour in worldly life: The following example will explain how a seeker should behave in worldly life. Both giving and receiving a bribe are equally sinful acts. They induce 100% sin. If one who is compelled to accept bribes at his workplace offers even the entire amount for the cause of the Absolute Truth it generates 10% sins. To avoid even that, a seeker should try for a transfer to another department/office where he does not have to indulge in such transactions. If even that is not possible then he should look out for another job.

      • Wealth (dhan) accumulated by unrighteous means is unstable. On the other hand that accumulated by righteous means is called Lakshmi and is stable.

          B. How much money should be given away as offering?: In the ancient times people would offer 40%-60% of their income. It is important for the head of a family to keep sufficient money required for household expenses and then give as offering a part of the savings. To realise God one has to sacrifice everything. To be able to achieve that one should increase the amount of offering stepwise.

    • 5. Place (of offering): Offerings made at holy places like Varanasi, Kurukshetra, Brahmavarta, Prayag are more meritorious.
    • 6. Time (of offering): Offering made on the first day (pratipada) of the Hindu lunar fortnight, in the evening, during the transit of the sun or a planet from one zodiac sign into another bestows greater merits.

    H. Classification of offerings

    • 1. Ideal and inferior: Offering made to the deserving by going to him on one’s own is the ideal type of offering; that given when asked for is of an inferior type (Parasharsmruti 1.29).
    • 2. According to the Bhagvadgita: Offering is classified into three types – sattvik, rajasik and tamasik.    Sattvik offering
      • Offering made without any expectation
      • Offering made willingly with love and respect
      • Happiness of the recipient is the only motive behind such an offering. As a result the donor is endowed with as much or even more happiness than the recipient.
      • Offering given as one’s duty
      • Secrecy about this offering is maintained. It is not publicised at all as the saying goes that even the right hand should not know what the left hand has done.
      • Offering is not made as a favour as such a feeling inflates the ego of the donor and obstructs his spiritual progress.

          Rajasik offering: This offering is made either as a favour on someone or to acquire a name, fame or to get some returns. This offering is not a self-inspired one.

          Tamasik offering: This is made with a bad intention, hatred, with a view to insult the other or is given to unworthy recipients at odd times.

    • 3. According to the Kurmapuran
      • Regular: This is given daily without any expectation.
      • Occasional: This is given either to destroy sin, as an act of atonement (prayashchitta) or on a particular occasion.
      • With expectation: This is given to acquire money, beget children, attain victory or heaven after death.
      • Pure: This is offered to God without any expectation.
    • 4. According to the Garudpuran
      • Gross: Offering gold or silver equivalent to the weight of a man is called offering after the ritual of weighing (tula dan). Offering the benefit acquired by performing a sacrificial fire (yadnya) to another is also included in this kind of offering.
      • Verbal: Promising protection to the one who is facing an obstacle or is in crisis. This is also called offering of security (abhaydan).
      • Psychological: Offering the benefit acquired through chanting of The Lord’s Name to another to cure him of his illness.
    • 5. According to Jainism
      • Patradan: Offering to the deserving (patra)
      • Karunadan: Offering to a poor man out of compassion (karuna)
      • Samadan: Offering made by followers of the same religion
      • Anvayadan: Offering given to one’s heir
    • 6. Superior offerings
      • Offering of food and medicine: Although imparting spiritual knowledge (dnyandan) is the most superior yet since it is in the subtle dimension most people do not realise its importance. As against this, since ‘offering food to the hungry’ can be seen with gross eyes most people realise its importance.
      • Giving shelter to people
      • Constructing houses (hermitages) for saints, etc.
      • Imparting spiritual knowledge: Spreading Spirituality.
      • Sacrificing one’s life (prandan): Sacrificing one’s life either to cure another of his illness or to release him from a crisis. Valiant warriors sacrificing their lives for the nation and those willingly offering their lives (bali) to obtain the grace of the female deity (devi) are also illustrations of sacrificing one’s life. [Refer ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 9 B – Divine Energy (Shakti), point – Sacrifice of a man (naramedh)’.]

    I. No ego about the offering: To the one who brags about helping others Swami Vivekanand has said, ‘If you feel proud that you have done a favour on a beggar by giving him money then please do not do so, because The Lord is capable of protecting and nurturing His devotees even nine kilometres deep in the bed of the Pacific Ocean. If one helps a beggar, one is not doing him a favour, instead one is benefitting from him, rather doing a favour on oneself by getting a chance to make a sacrifice.’

    J. Asking back what is offered: One cannot ask someone to return what one has offered him. However an exception to this is if the offering has been made in a fit of anger, out of frustration or insanity.

    3.2 Physical service

    Spiritual practice of a Vaishya (businessman) should not be merely by offering wealth. It should also include service with the body like a Shudra (labourer).

    4. Earning a livelihood by Vaishya class

    Wealth is earned by rearing cattle, agriculture and trade. The Vaishyas were prohibited from trading in honey, meat, iron and leather.

    4.1 Livelihood in adverse times

    They can adopt the means of livelihood of a Shudra (Gautam Dharmasutra).

    5. Special features of Shudra class

    ‘A Shudra was permitted to undertake any profession other than those of a Brahman (priest) and a Kshatriya (warrior). He was not prohibited from eating any food item or drinking liquor. He was also not compelled to perform the day-to-day actions (ahnik karma). Spiritual rites (sanskars) were also not compulsory for him. He did not have to observe the restrictions of the lineage (gotrapravar) to get married. He did not have to undertake atonement for violating scriptural rules.’ (2)

    He was entitled to adopt only the stage of the householder (gruhasthashram)

    नाधिकारो मे चातुराश्रम्‍यसेवने ।। – महाभारत १३.१६५.१०

    Meaning: (I am a Shudra.) I am not entitled to follow all the four stages of life (ashrams). – Mahabharat 13.165.10

    6. Spiritual practice of Shudra class

    As the intellectual level of a Shudra is rather low it would be difficult for him to understand the rules of Righteousness and follow them. Hence as spiritual practice service is prescribed for him.

    A Shudra neither possesses sharp intellect nor wealth hence he can serve The Lord only with his body. This amounts to offering of the body. Along with service he also offers his time. Physical service can be done by cleaning temples, hermitages (ashrams), etc., preparing the holy sacrament (prasad) to be given to the people gathered for functions there, doing menial chores such as chopping vegetables, washing utensils, etc. during religious festivals or bhandaras (festivals of distributing food for a spiritual purpose) so also by putting up posters and banners to announce a spiritual discourse. Service causes a rapid reduction in ‘ego’ and brings about rapid spiritual progress. It is because of this service that from the spiritual point of view a Shudra (labourer) is superior to a Brahman (priest).

    Importance of service is elaborated upon in ‘Science of Spirituality : Chapter 3 – Practice of Spirituality’.

    7. Livelihood of Shudra class

    ‘The specific duty of a Shudra is to serve the three classes of the Brahman, Kshatriya (warrior) and Vaishya (businessman) and procure the things required for his livelihood from them. For the lowest class that is the Shudra, service without expectation (nishkam) can lead to attainment of the Final Liberation (Moksha). According to the Apastamba Dharmasutra when serving the various classes a Shudra derives more happiness by serving a Brahman than by serving a Kshatriya which gives greater happiness than serving a Vaishya (शुश्रूषा शूद्रस्‍येतरेषां वर्णानाम्‌ । पूर्वस्‍मिन्‌ पूर्वस्‍मिन्‍वर्णे नि:श्रेयसं भूय: । -आपस्‍तंब धर्मसूत्र १.१.१.७/८). Service of the other classes (varna) that is Vaishya, Kshatriya and Brahman itself is the duty of the Shudra. The Shudra attains the Final Liberation through service just as the Brahman attains it through knowledge and detachment.

    Sage Gautam has said that if a Shudra ages serving a person belonging to a high class and becomes incapable of working then his former master should look after his needs (Gautam Dharmasutra 10-63).

    7.1 Earning a livelihood in adverse times

    Even during adverse times a Shudra should not adopt a profession of the higher classes.


    Dharmashastracha Itihas (first and second halves). Second edition: 1980, Publisher: Secretary, Maharashtra State Literary and Cultural Society, Secretariat, Mumbai 400 0034.
    1. Pg. 125           2. Pg. 133


    Why is humility a mandatory attribute for Brahman class?

    Imparting spiritual knowledge


    1. Meaning of Brahman

    The word Brahman means a mantra or a verse (stotra). The one composing a mantra or a verse is a Brahman.

    2. Prescribed duties, attitudes or rights

    Brahmans are privileged to perform the following six acts (shatakarma) – 1. Study of Spirituality (adhyayan), 2. Teaching Spirituality (adhyapan), 3. Performing sacrificial fires (yajan), 4. Guiding at a sacrificial fire (yajan), 5. Offering (dan) and 6. Accepting offerings (pratigraha).

    2.1 Study of Spirituality (adhyayan)

    This includes study of the Vedas along with other scriptures.

    A. Importance:

    The importance of study in this context is expressed in the 18th chapter of the Shrimadbhagvadgita in the form of the verse (shloka),

    अधेष्‍यते च य इमं धर्म्‍यं संवादमावयो: ।
    ज्ञानयज्ञेन तेनाहमिष्‍ट: स्‍यामिति मे मति: ।। ७० ।।

    Meaning: I will consider that the one who studies this conversation regarding Righteousness (Dharma) from the Gita has offered oblations unto Me through the sacrificial fire of spiritual knowledge. – 70

    श्रद्धावाननसूयश्च श्रुणुयादपि यो नर: ।
    सोऽपि मुक्‍त: शुभाँल्‍लोकान्‍प्राप्‍नुयात्‍पुण्‍यकर्मणाम्‌ ।। ७१ ।।

    Meaning: Even the one who listens to it with faith and without envy, will be liberated (from all his sins) and will attain the sacred regions (lok) attained by the ones performing meritorious actions. – 71

    A Brahman should possess the qualities of an evolved seeker or a disciple which are curiosity about the Absolute Truth, desire for Liberation, humility, the attitude of service, surrender unto the Guru, obedience towards the Guru, etc. to be able to undertake this study.

    B. Commencing study (upakarma/upakaran) and stopping study (utsarjan/utsarg):

    Upakaran means “to open, to start” that is to commence the study of the Vedas and utsarjan means “to stop the study of the Vedas for a specific period of time”. People following various Sutras perform this ritual on different days in accordance with the respective Veda to which the Sutra belongs.’ (1)

    C. Limitations of study:

    Intellect is ignorance, the causal body, so how will one realise God with such intelligence? That is why despite being convinced of the importance of Spirituality after learning it from an authority, reading holy texts repeatedly is also a way of nurturing ignorance. Sacrifice of intellect itself means devotion. What is the use of the intellect then? It is meant for converting itself to pure (sattvik) intellect by listening to a few discourses of an authority in Spirituality (shravan), contemplation (manan) and intense yearning (nijadhyas). This intellect does not prove to be of any use in achieving Self-realisation unless one surrenders oneself to the Sadguru. To comprehend even this, one requires intellect. This is perhaps its only use!

    2.2 Teaching Spirituality (adhyapan)

    With regard to this in the 18th chapter of the Shrimadbhagvadgita Lord Krushna says,

    य इदं परमं गुह्यं मद्‌भक्‍तेष्‍वभिधास्‍यति ।
    भक्‍तिं मयि परां कृत्‍वा मामैवैष्‍यत्‍यसंशय: ।। ६८ ।।

    Meaning: The one who imparts this ultimate secret (knowledge) to My devotees with intense love for Me, will undoubtedly come to Me. – 68

    न च तस्‍मात्‌ मनुष्‍येषु कश्चिन्‌ मे प्रियकृत्तम: ।
    भविता न च मे तस्‍मादन्‍य: प्रियतरो भुवि ।। ६९ ।।

    Meaning: And no man in the world is or will ever be dearer to Me than him. – 69

    Importance of imparting spiritual knowledge (dnyandan) in comparison to other types of offering is given in the table below.

    Type of offering For how long is it
    useful to the recipient?
    1. Food One day 5
    2. Blankets, clothes A few months 5
    3. A caravanserai
    A few years 5
    4. Spiritual
        knowledge (dnyan)
    Lifelong 100

    Other classes undertake spiritual progress only for self-evolvement; however the Brahman class guides others along with its own progress. Since the Brahman (priest) desires to bring about spiritual upliftment of the society his ‘I’ ness acquires an expansive form. That amounts to spiritual practice for the sake of society.

    2.3 Performing and guiding at sacrificial fires (yajan)

    Information on this is provided in ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 5 – Path of Devotion (Bhaktiyoga)’.

    2.4 Offering (dan)

    स्‍वस्‍वत्‍वनिवृत्ति: परस्‍वत्‍वापादनं च दानम्‌ ।

    Meaning: ‘Offering is the process of surrendering ownership of an object (without accepting payment) and handing it over to another.

    2.5 Accepting offerings (pratigraha)

    The act of accepting a gift is known as pratigraha. When someone accepts an object offered by another the former becomes its owner. According to the scriptures simply acquiring someone else’s possessions does not amount to acceptance of the offering (pratigraha). It refers to the acceptance done in a particular manner. The term pratigraha is used for the acceptance of an offering made by one amidst chanting of Vedic mantras with the aim of acquiring some invisible benefit or merit (punya). Acceptance of an object is expressed according to the nature of the object by holding the object offered in one’s hand or simply touching it or enjoying a part of its benefits. (Mitakshara commentary on the Yadnyavalkyasmruti 2.27).’(2)

    3. Other duties

    A. Instructions regarding duties of Brahmans have been given in the Rugveda (8.35.16) as follows –

         ब्रह्म जिन्‍वतमुत जिन्‍वन्‍तं धियोहतं रक्षांसि सेधतममीवा: ।

         Meaning: Acquire knowledge, protect the pure intellect and destroy the demoniacal attitudes in society.

    B. ब्राह्मणस्‍य तु देहोऽयं न कामार्थाय जायते ।
         इह क्‍लेशाय तपसे प्रेत्‍य त्‍वनुपमं सुखम्‌ ।। – महाभारत १२.३२१.२३

         Meaning: The gross body of the Brahman is not meant for enjoying happiness. The Brahman is born to undertake austerities facing difficulties on the earth. Only if this is undertaken will he acquire unparalleled happiness in the other regions (lok). – Mahabharat 12.321.23

    C. देवाधीनं जगत्‍सर्वं मंत्राधीनं च दैवतं ।
         ते मंत्रा ब्राह्मणाधीना ब्राह्मणो मम दैवतम्‌ ।। – श्री गुरुचरित्र २६.२३०

        Meaning: The entire world is under the control of deities. The deities are in the control of mantras which in turn are controlled by Brahmans (priests); hence the Brahman is my deity. – Shri Gurucharitra 26.230

    4. Responsibility

    Just as a king has to face the consequences of the wrongdoings of his subjects, so also a Brahman has to bear the consequences of the sins committed by everyone in the society. Since a Brahman is an embodiment of fire he can tolerate the consequences with ease.

    5. Types

    5.1 Based on spiritual rites (sanskar)

    A. जननात्‌ जायते शूद्र: ।

         Meaning: Every man is born a Shudra due to the process (karma) of birth.

    B. उपनयनात्‌ व्‍दिज उच्‍यते ।

         Meaning: He is called twice born (dvij) after the thread ceremony (upanayan).

         According to Spirituality the thread ceremony accords him a second birth (dvi means two and j means birth); hence he is called dvij.

         तप: श्रुतं च योनिश्चाप्‍येतद्‌ब्राह्मण्‍यकारणम्‌ ।
         त्रिभिर्गुणै: समुदितस्‍ततो भवति वै व्‍दिज: ।। – महाभारत १३.१२१.७

         Meaning: One becomes a Brahman after performing austerities, studying the Vedas and taking birth in a Brahman family. One deserves to be called dvij only if he fulfills these three qualities. [So in other words simply the rite of Upanayan does not entitle one to be called a twice born (dvij).] – Mahabharat 13.121.7

    C. वेदाध्‍ययनात्‌ विप्र: ।

         Meaning: It is said that study of the Vedas makes one a Brahman (vipra).

         After living with the Guru for twelve years and pleasing Him through service the one who becomes righteous and is bestowed with wisdom is labelled as a Brahman.

    D. ब्रह्म जानाति इति ब्राह्मण: ।

         Meaning: It is said that the one who has realised Brahman (God) is a Brahman (priest).

         Later by observing Righteousness as one gradually acquires the sattvik (sattva predominant) attitude one is able to perform devotion even after Self-realisation (dnyanottar bhakti) and thus attains Absoluteness. It is only then that one is truly worthy of being referred to as a Brahman.

    5.2 Based on the conduct

    A. The Dev Brahman: The one who performs the rituals of bathing, sandhya, fire sacrifices (hom) and chanting (japa) everyday (Atrismruti 373, 383).

    B. The Chandal Brahman: He is foolish, devoid of good values, unrighteous and cruel.

    C. The Shudra Brahman: The one who neither studies the Vedas nor chants the Gayatri mantra (Baudhayan Dharmasutra 2.4.20, Vasishtha Dharmasutra 3.1.2, Manusmruti 2.168).

    D. Inferior to a Shudra (labourer)

         चतुर्वेदोऽपि दुर्वृत्त: स शूद्रादतिरिच्‍यते ।। – महाभारत ३.३१३.१११

         Meaning: If a Brahman (priest) is ill-behaved despite being well versed in the four Vedas then he is inferior even to a Shudra. – Mahabharat 3.313.111

    5.3 Subdivisions

    ‘Initially Brahmans studying and teaching the Vedas and performing fire sacrifices (yadnyas) all belonged to one class. After Sage Vyas divided the Vedas into four parts the Brahmans studying them separately were named as Rugvedi, Yajurvedi, Samavedi and Atharvavedi. Further the Vedas were divided into different branches and accordingly Brahmans too were subdivided. Based on the Sutra of these subdivisions further many smaller groups came into existence.

    5.4 Sub-castes

    Though until the 10th century A.D. several subdivisions were formed among the Brahmans there were no sub-castes. From the 11th century onwards the Brahmans were divided into two factions – the Panchagaud and the Panchadravid. Those residing to the north of the Vindhya mountain ranges were the Panchagauds and the ones living to its south were the Panchadravids. The Panchagauds were mostly non-vegetarians while the Panchadravids did not eat meat till about the second world war.’ (3)

    6. Earning a livelihood

    6.1 Economic ideals

    A. Simple living: The motive of both the Vedic path and that of the Path of Devotion was to lead a life of self restraint. However it was far more difficult to follow the Vedic path in comparison to the Path of Devotion. Yet despite thousands of years since its inception the Brahmans (priests) did not abandon that path. They continued their worship of spiritual knowledge unabated and did not bother to accumulate wealth. It is extremely difficult to sustain oneself in poverty. Moreover they did not even consume non-vegetarian food. The Brahmans have been and still continue to uphold this extremely difficult task of preserving the Vedic religion since thousands of years. Not a single tale from the Purans depicts a Brahman as wealthy. He is poverty-stricken in all of them. (Thus poverty for a Brahman in all the eighteen universes signifies that he has not realised the implied meaning of the 18 Purans.) ‘Ideals like poverty, plain living and high thinking, no specific efforts for acquisition of wealth, protecting the culture and aiming at improving it were placed before Brahmans. Though they were accorded a high position yet instead of aspiring for worldly power they were expected to lead an impoverished life in comparison to the other classes. They had to impart their spiritual knowledge to the other classes and subsist on the meagre and uncertain rewards which they would get. The Kshatriyas (warriors) too were made to realise that they were not all powerful and that there was a class superior to them whose support they required.’ (4)

    The motive of this system was to prevent the development of ego in both the Brahmans as well as the Kshatriyas.

    B. How should wealth be earned?: ‘Wealth should be earned in a manner such that the other is aggrieved minimally and not much hardships are undertaken by oneself. Manu (4.5) has referred to the process of gathering cobs of food grain or food grains which have fallen in the field after the farmer has harvested the crop and subsisting on it for a living as rut (ऋत).

         अव्रता ह्यनधीयाना यत्र भैक्षचरा व्‍दिजा: ।
         तं ग्रामं दण्‍डयेद्राजा चोरभक्‍तप्रदो हि स: ।। – वसिष्‍ठ ३.४ आणि पराशर १.६०

    Meaning: The village which is inhabited by illiterate Brahmans (priests) who instead of undertaking vowed observances (vrat) survive only on alms, should be punished by the king like thieves. – Vasishthasmruti 3.4 and Parasharsmruti 1.60

        प्रतिग्रहाध्‍यापनयाजनानां प्रतिग्रहं श्रेष्‍ठतमं वदन्‍ति ।
        प्रतिग्रहाच्‍छुध्‍यति जप्‍यहोमैर्याज्‍यं तु पापैर्न पुनन्‍ति वेदा: ।।
                                                      – यम (स्‍मृतिचंद्रिका १ पाद १७९)

    Meaning: Out of pratigraha (which in this context refers to conduct), imparting knowledge and ritualistic worship [puja (spiritual practice)] conduct is said to be superior. The Vedas get purified (spiritual knowledge gains effulgence) with conduct and not by undertaking chanting and performing fire sacrifices. – Yama (Smrutichandrika 1 pad 179)

    C. Other professions are prohibited: Brahmans were prohibited from taking up other professions by all scriptural authors under normal circumstances because they felt that consequently there was a possibility that study and teaching of the Vedas and performing fire sacrifices would be neglected. Authors of the Sutras and Smrutis have stated that if Brahmans take up other professions forsaking the study of the Vedas and the observances related to the Vedas (shrautkarma) and amass wealth then their spiritual downfall is assured.

    D. How much wealth should be acquired?: Wealth sufficient only to sustain oneself and one’s family and to perform religious rites should be acquired.

    E. How much wealth should be accumulated?: The less the accumulation of food grain the better it is. In the Manusmruti (4.2-3, 4.7-8, 10.112, 4.12, etc.) Manu has stated that the Brahman who has food grain sufficient for only that day and does not worry about the next day is the best Brahman. Accumulation of wealth spells doom for a Brahman states the Mahabharat (13.47.22).

    6.2 Accepting offerings

    Importance of accepting offerings: Lord Yama has stated that it is better for a Brahman (priest) to accept an offering than to earn money by teaching the Vedas or officiating as a priest.

    When should an offering be accepted?: When a Brahman has sufficient wealth earned by other means he should neither earn money nor accept offerings. A Brahman can accept offerings from anyone (including a Shudra or a sinner) in dire circumstances when he has to feed his hungry parents, wife, etc. (Manusmruti 4.251), but should not utilise that wealth to satisfy his own hunger.’ (5)

    From whom should the offering be accepted?: Brahmans should accept offerings from a king, a disciple and a host performing a religious rite provided they are pious. They should not accept offerings from unrighteous individuals. A Brahman has to undertake penitence if he accepts an offering from an unworthy donor.

    Who should accept which offering?: Only the learned could accept big offerings.

    Benefits acquired by the donor: Acceptance of an offering by a learned, righteous Brahman is appropriate and it gains merits for the donor.

    Losses arising from accepting unwarranted offerings: The authors of the scriptures had also said that if a Brahman accepts offerings repeatedly without need or reason then his spiritual prowess declines (Manusmruti 4.186, Vasishtha Dharmasutra 14.13, Vishnu Dharmasutra 57.13).

    6.3 Fulfillment of the spiritual and worldly needs by the king

    ‘Studying and imparting spiritual knowledge; performing or guiding at sacrificial fires; giving and accepting offerings (pratigraha) are the prescribed duties of Brahmans. Though imparting knowledge, guiding at sacrificial fires and acceptance of an offering were decided as their means of livelihood since they could not earn much through that, the authors of scriptures have opined that the king should look after the needs of Brahmans. A Brahman offers one sixth of his penance to the king. In his Abhidnyan Shakuntal (2.13) Kalidas says that, that offering itself should be considered as the payment of tax by the Brahman. Scriptures state that it is the duty of a king to look after the needs of a Vedic Brahman (shrotriya) and to protect a Brahman who is incapable of earning a livelihood (Gautamsmruti 10.9,10; Yadnyavalkyasmruti 3.44).

    6.4 Change according to the time

    During the Vedic period Brahmans (priests) would sustain themselves on the earnings from teaching Spirituality, guiding at sacrificial fires and accepting offerings. With the passage of time the Brahman class was decided based on birth in a Brahman family and some people from that class had to resort to other professions for their livelihood. Occupations like agriculture and cattle rearing were relatively easy for them. The authors of scriptures granted Brahmans the liberty to undertake agriculture, trade, etc. as vocations during adverse times. The Brahmans were then categorised into two subcategories namely the householder (gruhastha) and the one subsisting on alms (bhikshuk). Priests and astrologers were included in the bhikshuk Brahman category.

    Very often the royal priest and ministers were Brahmans. The royal astrologer and mantrik (one practising mantras) were Brahmans as well. Medicine too was the Brahman’s profession. Brahmans would also undertake tasks like study of the Ayurveda, preparation of medicines for the ailing and would impart that knowledge to their disciples.’ (6)

    6.5 Earning a livelihood in adverse times

    A. For the sake of the three classes: ‘Out of the three classes should it become difficult for one to earn a livelihood by following the prescribed tasks for his class then he should resort to a profession of the class one grade below his (Vasishtha Dharmasutra 2.22). However one belonging to a lower class should not adopt the means of livelihood of a class above his (Vasishtha Dharmasutra 2.23).

    आपत्‍सु विहितं स्‍तैन्‍यं विशिष्‍टं च महीयस: ।
    विप्रेण प्राणरक्षार्थं कर्तव्‍यमिति निश्चय: ।। – महाभारत १२.१४१.३९

    Meaning: In adverse times theft of food grain sufficient for one meal a day is in accordance with the scriptures. A doctrine says that the Brahmans specially the elderly ones who rigidly follow the scriptures could lose their lives; hence even Brahmans could steal for survival. – Mahabharat 12.141.39

    B. For the sake of the Brahmans: Sage Gautam has said that generally a Brahman should not undertake a profession prescribed for a Shudra (labourer). However if his life is at stake then he can adopt it provided he does not sit on the same seat as a Shudra, does not consume food items like onion and garlic prohibited for Brahmans and does not indulge in housework alone (Gautam Dharmasutra 7.22/24).

    Though in adverse times a Brahman (priest) was permitted to undertake the profession of a Vaishya (businessman) yet with respect to moneylending, agriculture and cattle rearing several restrictions were imposed upon him. He was allowed to do agriculture and cattle rearing by proxy but moneylending was not permissible even in adverse times.

    Even when resorting to agriculture Brahmans had to observe some restrictions. Agriculture was considered inferior so it was to be taken up only to tide over the crisis. It is mentioned that 1/6th of the produce was to be offered to the king, 1/21st to the deities and 1/30th to Brahmans.

    Though a Brahman was allowed to trade in times of adversity, there were several restrictions on the items he could sell or trade in which were included fragrant substances like sandalwood, liquids like oil and clarified butter (ghee), cooked food, milk, curd, sesame seeds, rice, fruit, flowers, grass, water, young cows, honey, meat, slaves, etc. These restrictions were not applicable to Kshatriyas (warriors) who adopted the same profession. Brahmans had to sell an item for a fixed price without bargaining (Gautam Dharmasutra 7.6,7,15; Vasishtha Dharmasutra 2.22).’ (7) Authors of the aphorisms (sutras) such as Apastamba, Gautam, Vasishtha, etc. have specified which items a Brahman should not sell, for instance the Vasishtha Dharmasutra says that if a Brahman sells milk then he becomes a Shudra within three days.

    If a king does not help a noble, learned Brahman of good character in adverse times then he acquires sin (Manusmruti).

    7. Code of Righteousness in times of adversity (apaddharma)

    Apaddharma (आपद्धर्म) means ‘आपदि कर्तव्‍यो धर्म: ।’ the code of Righteousness to be adopted during a calamity. In the system of the four classes the religious duties of each of the classes are prescribed. ‘Often due to divine or earthly (spiritual or physical) calamities, a revolution in a kingdom, a drought, forcible resettlement, etc. suddenly there is a collapse in the system of classes. It then becomes difficult for people to perform prescribed actions according to the class. Consequently their means of earning a livelihood is affected. In such circumstances as an exception an individual belonging to one class is allowed to accept the code of Righteousness of the other classes. This arrangement which has been created by the scriptures is called the code of Righteousness in times of adversity. However the scriptures also preach that once the crisis is over or the system of classes is restored, one should undertake penance and start practising his own code of Righteousness (Dharma) once again.’ (8) If one is compelled to perform an inappropriate task in accordance with the code of Righteousness during adverse times then one should do so amidst chanting of The Lord’s Name.

    7.1 Use of weapons

    The Gautam Dharmasutra states that in adverse times a Brahman (priest) may use weapons. Manu too reiterates that a Brahman may wield a weapon to protect the system of classes and stages of life and his wife, other Brahmans and himself.

    An illustration to show that effulgence of a Brahman and a Kshatriya (warrior) coexist is Shri Parshuram.

    अग्रत: चतुरो वेदा: पृष्‍ठत: सशरं धनु: ।
    इदं ब्राह्मं इदं क्षात्रं शापादपि शरादपि ।।

    Meaning: Shri Parshuram who is well versed in the four Vedas and sports a bow and arrow upon His back (that is the one who has the effulgence of both the Brahman and the Kshatriya) will destroy evildoers either with a curse or with an arrow.

    Implied meaning: Being well versed in the Vedas implies being knowledgeable. Hence He will first impart spiritual knowledge and try to teach the people. Even then if they pay no heed then He will destroy the evildoers either with a curse or an arrow.

    8. The Brahman and other classes

    8.1 The Brahman and the Kshatriya

    A. बलं तु वाचि व्‍दिजसत्तमानां । क्षात्रं बुधा बाहुबलं वदन्‍ति ।। – महाभारत ८.७०.१२

         Meaning: The wise say that the strength of the best Brahmans lies in their speech and that of the Kshatriyas in their arms. – Mahabharat 8.70.12

    B. क्षत्रियाणां बलं तेजो ब्राह्मणानां क्षमा बलम्‌ ।। – महाभारत १.१७५.२९

         Meaning: The strength of Kshatriyas lies in their valour and that of Brahmans in their mercifulness. – Mahabharat 1.175.29

    C. नवनीतं हृदयं ब्राह्मणस्‍य वाचि क्षुरो निशितस्‍तीक्ष्‍णधार: ।
         तदुभयमेतव्‍दिपरीतं क्षत्रियस्‍य वाङ्‌नवनीतं हृदयं तीक्ष्‍णधारमिति ।।
                                                                        – महाभारत १.३.१२३

         Meaning: A Brahman’s (priest’s) heart is soft like butter but his speech is harsh like a sharp razor. A Kshatriya (warrior) is exactly the opposite. He is soft-spoken and hard-hearted. – Mahabharat 1.3.123

    D. ब्रह्म वर्धयति क्षत्र्त्रं क्षत्र्त्रतो ब्रह्म वर्धते ।। – महाभारत १२.७३.३२

         Meaning: A Brahman augments a Kshatriya’s prowess and himself prospers due to a Kshatriya. – Mahabharat 12.73.32

    E. तपो मन्‍त्रबलं नित्‍यं ब्राह्मणेषु प्रतिष्‍ठितम्‌ ।
         अस्‍त्रबाहुबलं नित्‍यं क्षत्रियेषु प्रतिष्‍ठितम्‌ ।।
         ना ब्रह्म क्षत्रमृध्‍नोति ना शस्‍त्रं ब्रह्म वर्धते ।
         ब्रह्म क्षत्रं च संयुक्‍तंमिह चामुत्र वर्धते ।। – महाभारत

         Meaning: The prowess of penance and mantras always exists in Brahmans (those who are so by virtue of their qualities and actions). In the same way the knowledge of weapons and physical strength lie with Kshatriyas. Kshatriyas cannot be glorified without assistance by the Brahman prowess and the prowess of the latter cannot prosper without protection by the former. If Brahmans and Kshatriyas are united then together they can progress not only on the earth but even in other regions like heaven and beyond. – Mahabharat

    F. ब्रह्म क्षत्र्त्रेण सहितं क्षत्र्त्रं च ब्रह्मणा सह ।
        संयुक्‍तौ दहत: शत्रून्‍वनानीवाग्‍निमारुतौ ।। – महाभारत ३.१८५.२५

         Meaning: If Brahmans and Kshatriyas fight an enemy as allies they will devastate the enemy just like fire and wind together burn down forests. – Mahabharat 3.185.25

    G. एकं हन्‍यान्न वा हन्‍यादिषुर्मुक्‍तो धनुष्‍मता ।
         बुद्धिर्बुद्धिमतोत्‍सृष्‍टा हन्‍याद्राष्‍ट्रं सराजकम्‌ ।। – महाभारत ५.३३.४३

         Meaning: An arrow released by an archer to strike a target may or may not kill a living being but a master plan chalked out by an intelligent man can destroy an entire kingdom along with its ruler. – Mahabharat 5.33.43

    H. एक: क्रुद्धो ब्राह्मणो हन्‍ति राष्‍ट्रम्‌ ।। – महाभारत ५.४०.८

         Meaning: A Brahman can destroy an entire state with his rage. – Mahabharat 5.40.8

    I. क्षत्रियस्‍यातिवृत्तस्‍य ब्राह्मणेषु विशेषत: ।
        ब्रह्मैव संनियन्‍तृ स्‍यात्‍क्षत्रं हि ब्रह्मसंभवम्‌ ।। – महाभारत १२.७८.२१

        Meaning: If Kshatriyas (warriors) abandon their Righteousness (Dharma) and outrage especially the Brahmans (priests) then the Brahmans themselves will subdue them as eventually the Kshatriya originates from the Brahman. – Mahabharat 12.78.21

    J. Annihilation of a Brahman and his curse

        स्‍त्रिय: कामेन नश्‍यंति । ब्रह्मणो हीन सेवया ।
        राजानो ब्रह्मदंडेन । यतयो भोगसंग्रहात्‌ ।

        Meaning: A woman is destroyed by desire, a Brahman by adopting inferior service, a king by the curse of a Brahman and an ascetic (yati) by accumulating objects.

        In this verse (shloka) the implied meaning of the line that ‘a king is destroyed by the curse of a Brahman’ is as follows: Since a Brahman is the Guru of the universe (Jagadguru) the responsibility of protecting him lies with the king. Under the king’s protection he can carry out his study smoothly and acquire knowledge. It is on the pure intellect of a Brahman that the health rather the prosperity of a king and his state and the happiness of all the subjects depends. That is why if such a Brahman is insulted by the king then due to destruction of knowledge itself, the state too is destroyed. The above discussion will illustrate how a Brahman is capable of destroying an evil king and his state with a curse. It also implies that only a Brahman can create an ideal king and an ideal state. Illustrations of several such pairs of a Brahman and a king like Arya Chanakya and King Chandragupta; Samarth Ramdas and King Shivaji can be cited. Chanakya destroyed Nanda, a cruel king and instated Chandragupta a righteous king on the throne. Samarth undertook a similar mission.

    8.2 The Brahman and the Shudra

    The Brahman is said to have been created from The Lord’s mouth. The main cavity out of all the cavities [called kha (ख) in Sanskrut] in the body is the mouth (mukha) [मुख]. ‘मुख्‍यं ख इति मुखम्‌ ।’ means the main cavity is the mouth because one can chant The Lord’s Name with it. Since the mouth is considered important a Brahman well versed in the Vedas is accorded a superior status. Even so from the spiritual viewpoint he became inferior and his importance declined. Presently the Brahman is considered superior only from the worldly point of view. The Brahman’s duty is to impart knowledge to the society, however since this knowledge is a part of nescience, it too is ignorance. Even then as the Brahman became vain he became inferior from the spiritual viewpoint. So eventually spiritually the Shudra (labourer) class is the greatest. The Shrimadbhagvat proclaims the Shudra class as the supreme one because it is allotted the task of serving all the other classes. Service cannot be done without humility and total surrender. No matter how great a Brahman is if mentally he does not become humble like a Shudra then he cannot attain the universality of a Sadguru. That is why it is said that ‘knowledge without modesty is futile (विद्या विनयेन शोभते)’. So being knowledgeable is not a good quality rather humility is and humility, the service attitude and politeness are all the qualities of a Shudra.

    The reason for the superiority of the Shudra class from the spiritual point of view is its origin from the feet (pad) of The Lord, the Sadguru. That is why the Sadguru (Shiva) is all pervading (padrup) while the disciple is attached to his body (pindarup). Deliverance from human life occurs at ‘the very feet of the Sadguru’. No matter how learned a man may be he can never become omniscient like God. He will acquire godliness only if he reduces this deficiency with humility. Thus the equation that human intellect + humility = God can be deduced.

    The Shudra is superior to the Brahman because of the qualities of humility, the service attitude, etc. Despite this only the effulgence of a Brahman and that of a Kshatriya are spoken of while that of a Vaishya and a Shudra are unheard of. This is because spiritual practices of a Brahman and a Kshatriya are principally for the sake of society while those of a Vaishya and a Shudra are mainly for the individual. The effulgence is in the context of others benefitting from it.


    Dharmashastracha Itihas (first and second halves). Second edition: 1980, Publisher: Secretary, Maharashtra State Literary and Cultural Society, Secretariat, Mumbai 400 0034.
    1. Pg. 292           2. Pg. 300, 301
    4. Pg. 124,130    5. Pg. 124-125
    7. Pg. 126-128

    Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publisher: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410, Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
    First edition : Vol. 3 to 10, Second edition : Vol. 1 and 2
    3. Vol. 6, Pg. 325-326     6. Vol. 6, Pg. 325-330
    8. Vol. 4, Pg. 571-572


    How is the ‘class’ (varna) of an individual determined?




    1. Actual spiritual practice according to the class

    A. Spiritual practice means offering whatever one has unto God. A Shudra (labourer) should offer his body as he does not have anything else to offer by way of service. A Vaishya (businessman) should offer his body and wealth, a Kshatriya (warrior) his body, wealth and life and a Brahman (priest) his body, wealth, life as well as intellect for the Absolute Truth.

    B. In the present times of the Kaliyug every person, to whichever class he may belong becomes a Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra for some time of the day, as given in the table below.

    Duration of the class during the day %
    Brahman Kshatriya Vaishya Shudra Total
    Brahman 40 30 20 10 100
    Kshatriya 30 40 20 10 100
    Vaishya 20 20 40 20 100
    Shudra 20 20 20 40 100

    Every individual is a Brahman when he studies, a Kshatriya when he fights according to the situation, a Vaishya when he earns a livelihood and a Shudra when he does some physical work like cleaning his body during a bath, for some time of the day. Hence, each one needs to undertake the spiritual practice of all the four classes for some time of the day.

    If an employee in an office guides a subordinate appropriately then even though this is from the Great Illusion (Maya) it becomes spiritual practice of the Brahman class. Similarly if one gets a person receiving or giving a bribe apprehended and makes an effort to give him the due punishment then although this is a task from the Great Illusion it amounts to spiritual practice of a Kshatriya. Planning on how to fortify the financial resources of the office becomes spiritual practice of a Vaishya and obeying the instructions of one’s superiors in the office politely becomes spiritual practice of the Shudra (labourer) class. Even though this is so, one should do a little more spiritual practice of the class in which one is born and whose profession one practises.

    C. The origin of the system of the four classes dates back to thousands of years ago. Since then till the present period nearly 70% of the population has been born of interclass marriages. For this reason too, each one needs to undertake spiritual practice of all the four classes for at least some time.

    D. An individual is born in the class which is conducive for his spiritual progress. Hence, if a Shudra is rich as a result of his merits from previous births, his thinking that, ‘I will practise Spirituality by offering my wealth like a Vaishya’ is wrong. He must certainly offer his wealth, but according to his class he should also do physical service. As a result of performing service of both classes, instead of being born as a Vaishya (businessman) he may directly be born in a Kshatriya (warrior) or Brahman (priest) class, in his next birth.

    E. If one undertakes the spiritual practice of one’s class appropriately and completely then in the next birth one is born in a higher class, e.g. if in this birth the spiritual practice of a Shudra is completed then in the next birth one may be born as a Vaishya. Later being born progressively as a Kshatriya and a Brahman one may ultimately attain the Final Liberation.

    F. Individual spiritual practice, spiritual practice for the sake of society and the class (varna) : The table below gives the difference between individual spiritual practice and spiritual practice for the sake of society.

    Individual spiritual
    Spiritual practice for
    the sake of society
    1. Spiritual level of the
    seeker for whom it is
    possible %
    30 70
    2. Highest spiritual
    Mostly Bliss, rarely
    Mostly Serenity
    3. Highest spiritual
    level % attainable
    70 100

    It is not possible to undertake spiritual practice for the sake of society (samashti sadhana) without doing individual spiritual practice (vyashti sadhana); hence to make rapid spiritual progress a seeker should do both. Mainly Brahmans (priests) and Kshatriyas (warriors) can undertake spiritual practice for the sake of society. In case of a Brahman it involves teaching Spirituality to others while for a Kshatriya it is sacrificing even one’s life for the protection of the society, should the need arise.

    2. Comparison of the four classes

    Brahman Kshatriya Vaishya Shudra
    1. The concerned
    part of the body
    Head Both arms Abdomen Both legs
    from the
    2. Right to perform
    the six actions
    A. Study
    + +
    B. Preach
    C. Perform
    D. Guide at
    + + +
    E. Make
    + + +
    F. Accept
    + +
    3. Number of days
    of seclusion
    during the mou-
    rning period
    (sutak) (Gautam
    14.1/4, Manu
    smruti 5.83, etc.)
    10 11 12 30
    4. Punishment for a
    A. Slander (abuse,
    e.g. criticism
    of a Brahman
    8.378, 8.267)
    A fine of 12
    pans* if one
    accuses so-
    meone of
    theft, etc. &
    24 pans if
    abuses are
    on someone
    A fine of
    100 pans
    A fine of
    150 pans
    B. E.g. Punishment
    to a Brahman
    for killing
    kyasmruti 3.236,
    adhyay 11,
    a vowed
    (vrat) for 12
    years (living
    far away from
    home below
    a tree with
    matted hair &
    celibacy for
    12 years)
    If a
    is killed
    for 6 years
    or donating
    1000 cows
    and 1 ox
    If a
    Vaishya is
    killed then
    celibacy for
    3 years or
    100 cows
    and 1 ox
    in donation
    If a Shudra
    is killed then
    for a year
    or donating
    10 cows
    and 1 ox
    5. Happiness,
    Unhappiness and
    A. Quantity of
    hapiness and
    Close to a
    spiritual level
    which transc-
    ends happin-
    ess and
    is more
    is equal to
    is more than
    B. Types of
    Sattvik Rajasik Rajasik Tamasik
    C. Happiness % 20 40 35 30
    D. Unhappiness % 10 20 35 50
    E. Bliss % 20 0 0 0
    F. A neutral state
    without happiness
    or unhappiness %
    50 40 30 20
    6. Quantity of destiny
    and spiritual practice
    (total 100%)
    A. Destiny % 30 50 70 90
    B. Spiritual
    practice %
    70 50 30 10
    7. Spiritual practice
    A. Main types of
    spiritual practice
    Path of
    Path of
    Offering Service
    B. Others External obj-
    ect of conte-
    mplation is
    of the mind
    by looking at
    an object
    listening to a
    Can be
    8. Offering in
    spiritual practice
    A Intellect +
    B. Life + +
    C. Wealth + + +
    D. Body + + + +
    9. Comparison of
    spiritual practice
    according to the
    A. The minimal
    spiritual level re-
    required for spi-
    ritual practice %
    50 40 35 30
    B. Amount of
    annual spiritual
    progress %
    2 1 0.5 0.25
    C. The maximum
    spiritual level
    attainable %
    100 70 50 40
    10. Quantity of
    individual spiritual
    practice and that
    for the sake of
    society(total 100%)
    A. Individual
    spiritual practice
    sadhana) %
    30 40 90 99
    B. Spiritual practice
    for the sake of
    society (samashti
    sadhana) %
    70 60 10 1
    11. In those with a sp-
    iritual level of 50%
    A. Oja [a precursor
    of effulgence (tej)]
    10 6 4 2
    B. Semen 90 94** 96*** 98***
    12. Ability to know
    which time period
    Beyond time Past, present
    and future
    Past and
    (does not
    think about
    past or
    13. Total amount in the
    Kaliyug %
    1 5 30 64
    14. Semblance of the
    yug to the class,
    e.g. the Satyayug
    has the attire of a
    Satyayug Tretayug Dvaparyug Kaliyug
    (The Shudra
    : Nude, hol-
    ding the
    tongue in
    one hand &
    the penis in
    the other)

    *     Pan – An ancient coin with a value equivalent to eighty cowries.
    **   Since the semen in a Kshatriya (warrior) is more than in a Brahman (priest) it was customary for Kshatriyas to have more marriages than Brahmans of the same spiritual level.
    *** Extramarital relations are more because semen is more.

    3. Determination of the class

    3.1 Difficulties in determination of the class

    One has to be beyond the three components (gunatit) to recognise the qualities (gun) and actions (karma) of another. Only saints can do this but They too do not answer such queries and only recommend the appropriate spiritual practice.

    3.2 Qualities are more important than the birth

    यस्‍य यल्‍लक्षणं प्रोक्‍तं पुंसो वर्णाभिव्‍यंजकम्‌ ।
    यदन्‍यत्रापि दृश्‍येत तत्तेनैव विनिर्दिशेत्‌ ।। – श्रीमद्‌भागवत ७.२१.३५

    Meaning: An individual should be classified in a particular class (varna) irrespective of his birth if he possesses the decisive characteristic of that class. One’s class should be decided considering the holistic picture of the qualities of the class of the person and those of the other classes. – Shrimadbhagvat 7.21.35

    The Mahabharat says that an individual’s class should be determined by birth but in accordance with his qualities and only if he possesses those qualities should he be considered to belong to that particular class.

    ‘Discussing on the system of classes in the Mahabharat Dr. P.G. Sahasrabuddhe has concluded that though they considered the class by birth they did not judge the potential by birth. They did not even vaguely speak of a concept from the Manusmruti which is deleterious to the welfare of the society that a Brahman (priest) should be held in high esteem only because of his birth even if he were to abandon his duties. In the ancient times the Shudras (labourers) too could study the Vedas and could adopt the stage of the renunciant (sannyasi). The 63rd adhyay (chapter) of the Shantiparva recommends all the four stages of life (ashrams) even to the Shudra who has become pure (free from sin) with his own actions.’ (1)

    3.3 The role played by castes in deciding the class (varna)

    Due to the difficulty in deciding the class of a person castes began to gain importance. Consequently the authors of the Smrutis began to say that like the class the caste too is determined by birth. After the period of the Sutras the class began to be determined based on the birth. It is not possible for the common man to become a Brahman with the prowess of penance like Sage Vishvamitra. Hence a rule was laid down in the interest of maintaining happiness in society that caste should be decided by birth. The restrictions of class and caste have to be followed till Self-realisation is attained; thereafter one has to preach only about the classes and stages of life is what the authors of the Smrutis write.

    3.4 It is important to decide whose class (varna) is being decided

    Question: Is the class to be decided by birth or by action?

    Shri Gulabrav Maharaj: Of the common man by birth and of sages by action (karma). Those who have transcended the awareness of the body and harbour the spiritual emotion of “He is I (so’ham)” are beyond the classes.’ – Sadhubodh page 167

    4. Change in the class

    According to the influence of the yug (era) every Kshatriya (warrior) who adopted the code of conduct of a Brahman (priest) eventually became one. All their descendants became Brahmans. Some of them became the proponents of the science of Yoga and others even wrote holy texts such as the Sanhitas. Some examples of a change in the class are as follows. A Brahman dynasty started from Gargya, son of Manyu when he accepted the code of conduct of a Brahman. Similarly all the three sons of King Duritakshay became Brahmans. Priyamedh and other sons of King Ajamel also became Brahmans. All of them were princes and their fathers were evolved souls. The king is an embodiment of Lord Vishnu. The ancient kings would look after their subjects with compassion just like Lord Vishnu. Should the need arise they were even prepared to sacrifice their lives for the happiness of their subjects. They believed that that itself was the king’s greatest duty. Kshatriyas transformed into Brahmans were the sons of such kings (Chapter 22, skandha 9 of Shrimadbhagvat). Vedic literature gives an account of people such as Nabhanedishtha, Bhalandan and Vatsapri who were born Vaishyas (businessmen) and then became Brahmans. The Mahabharat says, ‘Even a chaste Shudra (labourer) can become a Brahman with his qualities and actions. A Brahman who does not perform any actions is inferior even to a Shudra’. ‘During those times sages and the Brahman community accepted them. This is called the influence of the yug.

    However no one in the Kaliyug has the right to do such a thing. The class and caste are to be determined by birth itself. Sut has preached Purans such as the Shrimadbhagvat, etc. to sages like Shaunak. Sut’s father was a Brahman and His mother a Kshatriya. Sut called Himself a Shudra despite His being so evolved because He was born of a mother whose class was lower than that of His father. Nevertheless he was a close disciple of Shri Shukacharya and had received the mantle of His grace. The progeny being born of a father of a higher or lower class than his spouse are called anulom and pratilom respectively. They are not considered righteous. Yet all such progeny were entitled to realise God; because if Sut was not Self-realised then Shukacharya would never have accepted him as a close disciple.’ – H.H. Kane Maharaj, Narayangaon, Maharashtra

    5. Those excluded from the four classes

    5.1 Meaning

    This refers to the class of people ouside the four classes.

    5.2 Causes

    A. According to Manu

    • Manu has said, ‘Even those of lowly class were born due to non performance of actions’.

      1. शनकैस्‍तु क्रियालोपात्‌ इमा: क्षत्रियजातय: ।
      वृषलत्‍वं गता लोके ब्राह्मणादर्शनेन च ।।४३।।
      पौण्‍ड्रकाश्चौंड्रद्रविडा: काम्‍बोजा यवना: शका: ।
      पारदापह्लवाश्चीना: किराता दरदा खशा: ।।४४।। – मनुस्‍मृति, अध्‍याय १०

      Meaning: The different Kshatriya (warrior) castes such as Paundrak, Chaundra, Dravid, Kamboj, Yavan, Shak, Parad, Pahlav, Chini, Kirat, Darad and Khash became devoid of energy because they did not pay their respects to, rather because they dishonoured Brahmans and did not observe the duties of a Kshatriya. – Manusmruti, adhyay 10

    • 2. मुखबाहुरुपज्‍जानां या लोके जातयो बहि: ।
      म्‍लेच्‍छवाचश्चार्यवाच: सर्वे ते दस्‍यव: स्‍मृता: ।।४५।। – मनुस्‍मृति, अध्‍याय १०

      When Brahmans (priests), Kshatriyas, Vaishyas (businessmen) and Shudras (labourers) defaulted from their duties they were called dasyu is what the above verse (shloka) says according to the explanation by Kullukbhatt. It is incorrect to say that the three classes of the Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaishya belong to the Aryan race whereas the Shudra class does not and belongs to the dasyu clan.’

    B. According to the Gurucharitra

    • 1. Any kind of bad conduct results in birth as a Chandal (one born from a Shudra father and a Brahman mother) [28:7].
    • 2. One who worships deities other than the family deity and speaks the untruth (28:10)
    • 3. One who forsakes his duties considering them to be base and undertakes duties of another nature, be he a Brahman (priest), Kshatriya (warrior), Vaishya (businessman) or a Shudra (labourer) is itself a Chandal (one born from a Shudra father and a Brahman mother). (28:37)
    • 4. One who deserts his Guru, parents or wife (28:9)
    • 5. One who kills without reason (28:11)
    • 6. One who sells his own daughter (28:11)

    5.3 One kind of those outside the classes – demons

    ‘In the Tretayug another class distinct from the four classes was created. This dreadful class was of the demons (asur, rakshas). However they are not referred to as a class (varna) because it would be demeaning to the terminology of class. Hence they are simply known as demons. These demons were so terrorising that they made all the subjects unhappy. They were not in the least concerned about spiritual progress and acquiring spiritual knowledge. They were ego, vanity, pride, anger, hypocrisy, egoism and desire personified. Their numbers swelled rapidly. The Brahmans (priests) allotted the task of destroying the demons to the Kshatriyas (warriors).’ (2)

    How did decline in righteousness cause creation of four classes?




    1. Definition of the four classes (Chaturvarnya)

    The social system created to assist everyone in society to behave based on his natural temperament, that is the constitution composed of the three components (triguns) and his spiritual evolution is the system of the four classes (chaturvarnya). In other words, this system of four classes incorporated in Righteousness (Dharma) is meant to provide guidance with regard to behaviour and spiritual practice to be undertaken in accordance with qualifications, that is potential and requirement, so as to acquire Bliss.

    2. Animals and the four classes

    The system of four classes is observed not only in man but also among flora and fauna. Among animals the cow and serpent who are sattvik (sattva predominant) belong to the Brahman class while the tiger and lion who are rajasik (raja predominant) in nature belong to the Kshatriya class. This means that a class is a state which is determined by the three components (guns).

    3. Society and the four classes

    ‘A group of people which lacks study and preaching, lucrative transactions and service and fails to protect its people is not deserving of this description of society.’ (1) This means that society certainly has four types of individuals and four classes.

    4. Motive (principle) and importance

    A. ‘The creation of the classes described by authors of the Smrutis is based on division of labour. They were meant to strike a balance between various societal groups without leading to any rift between them. In that system of classes rather than the rights and privileges of the different classes emphasis was laid on the performance of duties.’ (2)

    B. ‘In any family on the basis of genetics generally the children resemble the parents with regard to the complexion, temperament, intelligence, etc. Considering this as the foundation, authors of the Smrutis such as Manu laid down the rules for constituting the societal pattern. Manu came across different people with qualities required for a particular task in a particular social setup and believed the qualities to be inherited. He then allotted the responsibility of different tasks beneficial to society to those particular classes.’ (3)

    C. Lord Shrikrushna has said (Shrimadbhagvadgita 4:13) ‘चातुर्वर्ण्‍यं मया सृष्‍ट्‌यं गुणकर्मविभागश: ।’. This means, ‘I have created the four classes (varna) according to components (gun) and actions (karma)’.

    D. Each one is born in a particular class depending on his potential to practise Spirituality or according to his need for that particular spiritual practice. The Lord’s motive behind establishing this system of four classes was for man to re-enter the Hansa class (refer point ‘The period preceding the Satyayug’) after he had fulfilled the obligations of all the four classes. This means that the restrictions of the four classes imposed by The Lord are in fact meant to destroy the four classes. The same point has been emphasised in the Shri Eknathi Bhagvat (20.314, 21.209-210).

    5. Special features

    A. Psychologically one: Mentally all the four classes are close to each other because they are all parts of the same Universal Being (Virat Purush). The Purushsukta states that the Brahman (priest) was created from the face, the Kshatriya (warrior) from the arms, the Vaishya (businessman) from the chest and the Shudra (labourer) from the legs of the Universal Being.

    Variant meaning: The face of the Universal Being is the Brahman, the arms are the Kshatriya, the chest is the Vaishya and the legs are the Shudra.

    B. Different worldly duties: The worldly duties of every class are different, e.g. imparting knowledge is the duty of the Brahman.

    C. Equality in terms of attaining Brahman (God): Manu has preached that all have an equal right to realise Brahman. This will be explained by the verse (shloka) below as –

    अहिंसा सत्‍यमस्‍तेयं शौचमिंद्रियनिग्रह: ।
    एतं सामासिकं धर्मं चातुर्वर्ण्‍येऽब्रवीन्‍मनु: ।। – मनुस्‍मृति १०.६३

    Meaning: Manu says that non-violence, truth, not committing theft, external and internal purity and control over the sense organs is the common code of Righteousness for people of all the four classes. – Manusmruti 10.63

    6. Creation of the four classes

    6.1 The three components, four aspects of Righteousness and the yugs (eras)

    A. The period preceding the Satyayug: During those days there was only one class – the Hansa class, the four classes did not exist then. Hansa also means the soul. All the people from that period were engrossed in the spiritual experience of Self-realisation. They were not even aware of the state of Self-realisation. Even if they did descend from the nirvikalpa superconscious state (samadhi) they would descend at the most to the state where they harboured the spiritual emotion that ‘He (God) is I (so’ham)’.

    B. The Satyayug (Krutyug):

    • Origin: As society regressed from the spiritual emotion of ‘He is I (so’ham)’ to ‘I am distinct from Brahman (aham)’ the yugs commenced and began changing.
    • Features: Even in the Satyayug there was only the Hansa class; but often they were aware of their state of supra consciousness. God has preached Righteousness of two types – materialistic and spiritual. Every being who was spiritually inclined was aware that ‘I am not this body, I am the soul’. All who followed the path of Spirituality (nivruttimarg) were in a state of Self-realisation, that is had lost the spiritual emotion that ‘He is I’. In other words their ignorance as well as spiritual knowledge was totally destroyed. God established a link between the two righteous factions by entrusting the responsibility of providing for those following the path of Spirituality to those following materialism (pravruttimarg). So long as this link was not broken, man was happy. The circumstances prevailing during that period were as described below.

      During this yug since all were sattvik (sattva predominant) in nature they behaved righteously. Consequently there was absolutely no need for a code of punishment (an administrative system).

      न वै राज्‍यं न राजासीत्‌ न दण्‍डो न च दण्‍डिक: ।
      धर्मेणैव प्रजा: सर्वा: रक्षन्‍ति स्‍म परस्‍परम्‌ ।।

      Meaning: In an ideal state there were no criminals so there were also no rulers to punish them. Since there was no king, there was no state. Each one would follow the code of Righteousness and protect the other.

    • Spiritual practice: Righteousness in the Satyayug consisted of the four aspects of 1. Spiritual knowledge (spiritual practice of the Brahman class), 2. Penance (spiritual practice of the Kshatriya class), 3. Offering (spiritual practice of the Vaishya class) and 4. Truthfulness (spiritual practice of the Shudra class). When these four aspects of Righteousness remain secure, that is they are followed by the society, the Satyayug reigns in its full glory. At that time the evolved and sattvik (sattva predominant) intellect necessary for acquisition of spiritual knowledge was present along with the potential to perform austerities and the attitude of donating generously. Besides all were truthful. All the people in the Satyayug had knowledge of the Absolute Truth (soul principle), were righteous, prudent and sattvik. That is why each one’s existence proved conducive for the other. No one was exploited. Thus it is automatically proved that only if everyone remains righteous then harmonious living is assured.

    C. The Tretayug

    • Origin: युगे युगे धर्मपाद: क्रमेण अनेन हीयते । – चरकसंहिता

      Meaning: In every yug one aspect of Righteousness decreases progressively. – Charaksanhita

      Nature (Prakruti) being composed of the three components, some time or the other the raja and the tama components are bound to generate from the sattva component. Once this occurs it is but natural for the spiritual emotion towards The Supreme Soul to get reduced. It is then that deterioration of Righteousness begins. As a result, the Righteousness that was endowed with the four aspects of spiritual knowledge, austerities, offering and truth in the Satyayug becomes weak in one aspect, that is spiritual knowledge. This indicates the culmination of the Satyayug and commencement of the Tretayug.

    • Spiritual practice: In the Tretayug as evolution of the intellect diminished, penance, offering and truthfulness remained as spiritual practices.
    • Creation of an administrative system: When the link between Righteousness of worldly and spiritually inclined individuals weakens, the sattva temperament of man undergoes regression. According to the law generated due to unrighteousness that a big fish swallows a small one, the powerful destroy the feeble. It then becomes extremely necessary to create a system of punishment, that is an administrative system to induce rationalism and to arrest this anarchy. That is why the Mahabharat (12.64.21) quotes –

      चात्रो धर्मो ह्यादिदेवात्‌ प्रवृत्त: पश्चादन्‍ये शेषभूताश्च धर्मा: । – महाभारत १२.६४.२१

      Meaning: The Supreme God first created the code of Righteousness of rulers (rajadharma) and then incorporated other codes of Righteousness in it.

      In the Tretayug after creation of the ruling system Kshatriyas (warriors) having mastery over their sense organs became the rulers and their chief responsibility was the protection of Brahmans and cattle. The effulgence of Kshatriyas continued uninterrupted with the support of the effulgence of Brahmans (priests). The kings themselves were moralistic. They would observe Righteousness in its totality, behave righteously themselves and make their subjects follow suit. All the kings from the Tretayug would crown their son the king and then renouncing everything would retire to the forest clad in robes made from the bark of a tree and enter the stage of the retired householder (vanaprasthashram). Does this not prove that they had control over their sense organs right from the stage of celibacy (brahmacharyashram)? It is then that one feels compelled to revere Arya Chanakya by offering obeisance to Him for His aphorism (sutra) ‘राष्‍ट्रस्‍य मूलं इंद्रियनिग्रह:’ meaning control over the senses is the basis of governing a state, which illustrates what an indepth study He had made when writing it.

      ‘Until the middle part of the Tretayug the influence of the elapsed time had become quite evident. Kshatriyas began to forget that their duty was to protect subjects and that their ultimate aim was attainment of Brahman (Self-realisation) and began to perform fire sacrifices (yadnyas) to acquire more and more power and victory. One favourable outcome of this extraordinary prowess of the Kshatriyas was that demons began to fear them. Ravan felt threatened by Sahasrarjun, a Kshatriya monarch. Later however the Kshatriyas became arrogant and vain due to excessive power. They forsook humility. As a result Sahasrarjun slew Parshuram’s father, Sage Jamadagni. The enraged Parshuram then resolved to destroy the Kshatriyas (warriors) blinded with pride and slew thousands of them. This was favourable for demons who then began to create chaos everywhere. Consequently The Supreme God had to assume an incarnation of a Kshatriya. The seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Shrirama was born in the Tretayug. In this incarnation, Lord Ramachandra annihilated all demons and commenced efforts to reinstate the system of the four classes.’ (4) Rama became the monarch. It is because He ruled the kingdom ideally that Rama’s rule of Righteousness (Ramarajya) is considered as an ideal state. Since then the code of punishment was decided to be the basis of the three sciences (paths of Spirituality) of anvikshiki (path to Liberation), trayi (path of materialism) and varta (business). When this code of punishment becomes ineffective, the three sciences are destroyed.

    • Origin of the four classes: After creation of the king (the Kshatriya) the other three classes also came into existence.
    • Origin of astrology: ‘As the time for culmination of the Krutyug approached, the planets and the lunar asterisms began exerting their influence on the earth. Though at that time it was possible for the sages (brahmarshis) to decide which embodied soul would take birth in whose womb yet in the forthcoming period it would be impossible to do so. It would be difficult to tell someone that ‘your son is a Shudra’ because the time to come would be dominated by egoism, hatred, arrogance, jealousy, hypocrisy, anger, covetousness and desire. It was necessary to formulate many means to tackle this; hence the sages created various sciences, astrology being a very important one among them. Astrologers would predict the class (varna) of a newborn studying the positions of the planets. Then the child would be allotted a profession based on its class. Apart from this as a remedy against the frequencies of planets, gemmology,study of various metals (dhatushastra) to be used on human body and study of plants (vanaspatishastra) to reduce the ill- effects of plants were created to assist man in the endeavour to progress.’ (5)

    D. The Dvaparyug

    • Origin: Later as the proportion of the sattva component decreased further two aspects of Righteousness were destroyed and the Dvaparyug originated. The kings became average, that is averagely righteous. Consequently the subjects followed suit.
    • Spiritual practice: In the Dvaparyug as there was a decline in the attitude to perform austerities only the two spiritual practices of offering and truthfulness remained and the sattva component declined even further.
    • History: ‘At the beginning of the Dvaparyug the natural system of the four classes had begun once again. When Duryodhan was born, Maharshi Vyas had clearly apprised that “if he is not killed at once the Bharatiya war (a destruction of the family lineage) would ensue” because he was not a Kshatriya (warrior) but a demon born in a Kshatriya family. That is why instead of safeguarding the code of protecting seekers and destroying evildoers (kshatradharma) a deceitful and malicious rule would prevail. The real Kshatriyas would be banished into the forest. Till the Dvaparyug, time had exhibited its effect immensely. King Dhrutarashtra disobeyed Maharshi Vyas and let Duryodhan live. As a result Lord Shrikrushna had to assume an incarnation and the Bharatiya war was waged.’ (6)

    E. The Kaliyug

    • Origin: Soon after the culmination of the incarnation of Lord Krushna the proportion of the sattva component decreased tremendously. Three components of Righteousness declined completely, only truthfulness persisted. At that time the current Kaliyug commenced.
    • Spiritual practice: As even the attitude of making offerings is absent in the Kaliyug, The Lord has made an arrangement such that even speaking the truth amounts to spiritual practice.
    • Changes occurring in the Kaliyug according to the prevailing time: ‘Later in the Kaliyug as a result of falling prey to awareness of the body, there is a deterioration in Righteousness, that is a collapse in the structure of the four classes. Kaliyug is an era of ignorance, darkness and egoism. During this period due to exhaustion of the Brahman (priestly) qualities in Brahmans (seekers), instead of worshipping Brahman and making efforts to realise the Brahman principle, they became blind, ignorant, foolish and egoistic. Brahmans themselves were unable to comprehend the meaning and code of Righteousness of a Brahman and the qualities that a Brahman (priest) should possess. Forgetting the righteous code of conduct of a Brahman like selflessness and penance, Brahmans became greedy to procure offerings and vain about their caste. Kshatriyas (warriors) forgot valour and their ultimate aim and resorted to malicious conduct and politics. Internal feuds and dissensions and deceitful rule as well began in royal dynasties. Vaishyas (businessmen) became an icon of greed and Shudras (labourers) lost their status totally.

      In brief the truth is that in the Krutyug all were Brahmans (knowers of Brahman) while in the Kaliyug all have become deluded and egoistic.

      यथा कृतयुगे पूर्वमेकवर्णमभूत्‌ किल ।
      तथा कलियुगस्‍यान्‍ते शूद्रीभूता: प्रजास्‍तथा ।। – मत्‍स्‍यपुराण १४३.७८

      Meaning: Just as in the Satyayug there was only one Brahman class so also at the culmination of the Kaliyug there will be only the Shudra class (all people will become Shudras). – Matsyapuran 143.78

      To add to this, demoniacal energies (embodied souls) took birth all over and attacked India in the form of Yavans (foreign invaders) thus disrupting its entire social system. They impoverished the country of its wealth and spiritual knowledge too. Ignorance and egoism had grown rampantly and the society had no saviour. At such a time various evolved beings and sages from the Himalays have assumed incarnations in the past two thousand years of this Kaliyug with the aim of diverting the society onto the righteous path. These attempts are still continuing and will continue in the future as well.

      The sole objective of this system of the four classes is to protect man from the flow of time and to liberate him. However time proved detrimental to this objective and the collapse of this wonderful social system led to hatred, strife and the caste system.’(7)

      ‘The duration of the Kaliyug is 4,32,000 years of which uptill now 5,500 years are completed. In the current times the righteous conduct of man has virtually reached a nadir. At the culmination of the Kaliyug because of a peak in the tama component all creation will be unhappy in all aspects and there will be rampant unrighteousness. Few seekers desirous of Liberation (mumukshu) as well as other seekers and saints will find it difficult to survive and at that time due to their yearning God will hear their call. On the banks of the river Narmada in the Shambhal village the tenth incarnation of The Lord, named Kalki will be born to a righteous Brahman called Vishnugupta. He, mounted on a horse wielding a sword will destroy all the evildoers on the face of the earth and then will instate the Satyayug and return to His abode.’

      In this way in every yug (era) one fourth of Righteousness on the earth declines and now it exists only in India. For more information on this refer ‘Science of Spirituality: Vol. 1 A – Righteousness (Dharma), Chapter 1 A A. What is Righteousness?, point – Righteousness and the importance of India’.

      ‘So long as the passage of time consisting of the three components continues the four classes will naturally remain! The question then is only of introspection! One should modestly contemplate on which class one actually belongs to and what one’s conduct should be like so as to make spiritual progress. To benefit from the system of classes one should give up the ego that ‘I belong to so-and-so caste’. When performing actions an attempt should be made to acquire the state of a Brahman, that is the sattvik (sattva predominant) nature, the love of The Lord and virtues.’ (8)

    F. Comparison between yugs

    1. The yugs and the four aspects of Righteousness

    Yug Aspect of Righteousness and its effects
    Satya 4 hence stable
    Treta 3 hence less steady
    Dvapar 2 hence hardly steady
    Kali 1 hence unsteady

    2. Comparison

    Satya Treta Dvapar Kali
    1. Date (tithi) of
    of the yug
    Third day
    of the
    fortnight of
    Ninth day
    of the
    of Kartik
    day of the
    dark fortni-
    ght of
    The full moon
    day (pournima)
    /no moon day
    (amavasya) of
    2. Lifespan of
    man (years)
    400 300 200 100
    3. Aspects of
    4 3 2 1
    A. Spiritual
    B. Penance + +
    C. Donation + + +
    D. Truth + + + +
    4. Main qualities Sattva Sattva-raja Raja-sattva Tama
    5. Merits and sins
    A. Sins % 0 25 50 75
    B. Merits % 100 75 50 25
    6. Spiritual
    A. Deity of
    Vishnu Mahadev
    B. According to
    ‘Science of
    Penance Offering Truth
    C. According to
    the Vishnu-
    yug Puran
    Meditation Fire
    Chanting The
    Lord’s Name
    D. According to
    other Purans
    Knowledge Penance Spiritual
    practice of
    seekers &
    7. Guru of the
    according to
    Setu’ written by
    Vasishtha Vyas Shankaracharya

    6.2 Creation according to the doctrine of evolution

    A. The Shudra (labourer): According to the doctrine of evolution protection of the body is the basic impression. All are Shudras at birth because they are born with the impression that ‘I am the body (जन्‍मात्‌ जायते शूद्र: ।)’. It is said that ‘Shudras have no right to study the Vedas’ because Shudras (those who are concerned about their bodies) cannot think beyond their bodies. Their further progress depends on the proportion of the impressions (sanskar) of a Shudra on the embodied soul.

    B. The Vaishya (businessman): With further evolution that individual begins to be concerned with nurturing his family and thus commences doing agriculture, business, etc.

    C. The Kshatriya (warrior): With further evolution one begins to develop an affinity for a territory. This leads to the generation of the Kshatriya class. Now the affinity is for the country and not for one’s body hence patriots sacrifice even their lives for the country.

    D. The Brahman (priest): In the final stage of evolution one becomes curious about The Lord and spiritual knowledge. This leads to the origin of the Brahman class.

    7. History

    7.1 Difference in social class

    ‘Different classes (varna) did not exist in the Vedic period but according to Mahamahopadyay P.V. Kane during that period there were different groups. Performing sacrificial fires, imparting knowledge and priesthood were the tasks of the Brahman group and administration and protection of the people were those of the Kshatriya group. Vaishyas were common people undertaking activities like commerce, farming, etc. Those indulging in menial labour and service were Shudras. In this way though societal groups were created based on actions (karma) yet any individual could perform whatever task he wished according to his liking.

    7.2 Various classes (varna)

    Gradually as time elapsed Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras began to be categorised into four classes. During the period of the Taittiriya Sanhita and the Brahman holy texts the relationship between the three the Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaishya classes was decided. Initially there was no discrimination between the three classes however gradually the concept that Brahmans (priests) were superior to the others developed. This practice was followed by the Kshatriyas (warriors). They began to feel that if Brahmans were superior because of their knowledge of the Vedas and fire sacrifices then they as Kshatriya kings were also superior because they protected and looked after the subjects. Thereafter these two classes began to quarrel over the issue of superiority. The conflict between Vasishtha and Vishvamitra and Kartavirya and Jamadagni was of this nature. Nevertheless since society benefitted equally from both and since they were interdependent the Shatpath Brahman ( says that both should co-operate with each other. In those days men and women belonging to all classes were eligible to study the Vedas and to perform fire sacrifices.

    In the post-Vedic period fire sacrifices and other rituals became so cumbersome that the stage of ritualistic worship (karmakand) assumed tremendous importance. Consequently some scholars created the Upanishads. They explained the philosophies of Brahman, the soul (atma) and The Supreme Soul (Paramatma). These Upanishads are predominantly written by Kshatriyas. Brahmans considered them as their Gurus and acquired knowledge of Brahman (God) from them. It is well-known that King Janak of Mithila had realised Brahman and that Yadnyavalkya acquired spiritual knowledge from Him.

    7.3 System of classes determined by birth

    The reactions to the status higher than the Brahmans being accorded to the Kshatriyas during the Buddhist social system are evident in the period of the Sutras. Authors of various Sutras however have considered the Brahman class as the highest. It was during this period of the Sutras that the system of classes came to be determined by birth. Even if the scriptures permitted a Brahman or a Kshatriya to undertake the jobs of a Vaishya (businessman) his class would not change. Even though the holy texts such as the Mahabharat and the Ramayan stated that the class was determined by components (gun) and actions (karma) of an individual yet in reality this was not so. Despite Karna being a great warrior he was not accorded the status of a Kshatriya. Dron, Krup, Ashvatthama and Parshuram remained Brahmans inspite of accepting the code of Righteousness of a warrior (kshatradharma). Manu clearly states that birth and not actions determines the class of a person (Manusmruti 10.5).’ (9)